Things are coming to a head in Halcyon City. Oversight (well, Brahma) is attacking Pheonix Academy, claiming Hellbinder and Alias have corrupted the kids at the school for nefarious purposes, all so he can cover up heinous things he’s done in the past.
Meanwhile, Ember’s mom is playing with file – literally, her fire powers that she only ever learned to repress, never control.
Back to the Village
Having re-read some of the stuff related to leaving and then reentering the Depths of a site, I have a feeling I’m going to hold some ill-will to Gertruda for making me escort her back to town, but whatever.
We get back to town an hour before dawn. I’m working my way through a long list of stuff to do. So let’s wrap up a few things, starting with delivery Gertruda to her mother.
Really? That’s great. Okay. I “realize the truth of the quest.”
I’m going with something like the Dracula movie with Keanu. Gertruda’s been tainted, but not turned – let’s say by some lesser vampire who’s been pretending to be Strahd to the besotted, idiot girl, and toying with her while slowly corrupting her.
So I can’t let that stand, obviously. I’ll take my measly one xp and Swear a Vow to fix the girl by finding who- or whatever was toying with her in the castle.
Nice. I have a clear picture of what I need to do next, and +2 momentum.
I’ll have this be a Formidable quest, since just retrieving the girl was Dangerous, and this feels like it should be a step up from that. In the meantime, the hyperprotective Mary is given instructions to keep a damned close eye on her daughter. (I’m sure nothing will go wrong there.)
Then, quite exhausted, I return to the Chapel of Barovia and make the somewhat riskier attempt to conclude my quest to “Return the Ahmeshti to the hallowed ground of Chapel of the village of Barovia.” (A sort of halfway-point quest for all the stuff that probably needs to happen with that thing.)
Nice! That’s just a troublesome quest, so 1 more XP there brings me to six total, 3 unspent after getting Ismark as a “kinsman.”
I know what I’d like to do with that XP, so after setting up both the Icon and the holy symbol of Barovia in places of honor, I return to the Icon of Ahmeshti, take out the Flail, get on my knees, and begin a sort of impromptu vigil, for all that I’m quite worn out. I’m trying to forge a bond with this, an ancestral weapon of the Freewardens.
Are. You. Kidding. Me?
Okay, well, this isn’t actually as annoying as it seems at first – there are three pretty easy responses here:
- I’ve got 10 momentum. I think I can just reset the challenge dice, if I want to.
- The “Forge a Bond” move says “If you make this move after you successfully Fulfill Your Vow to their benefit, you may reroll any dice.” I think returning the Icon to the chapel would count for that, since the two items are linked in some way, which means I could reroll that 10.
- I could just swear an iron vow to do something in alignment with the Flail’s “wishes” (call it the thing’s destiny, whatever), and take the bond as a result.
I’m actually going to go with option 3, here, because I don’t NEED a strong hit – the benefits for that do nothing for me (my spirit and momentum are maxed out right now.
/me annoyed Mermista groan.
Well, I’m not burning momentum for a Strong hit that only gets me back some of the momentum I just spent, so I start off with a vow sworn, but not EXACTLY sure how to “Drive the Qashida out of Barovia” – since I don’t really know where they are or what they’re doing. (And I’m still getting my head around the idea they EXIST, so…)
Anyway, swearing that vow to the Flail and/or the Farwardens that have come before me let’s me spend 3 xp to pick up a new asset, Blade-bound (in this case, Flail-bound, but whatever).
I was really torn about which aspect of the Asset to take first, but while the first one is really useful, the second one is really fun and potentially horrible, so I went with that first. In short, I envision not a spirit but MANY spirits of past farwardens, whispering advice and knowledge from the mace and generally unnerving me and getting in my way.
Obviously, I need to end my vigil/vow-swearing session by trying to get answers from the Flail, specially about the Qashida.
“I’ll drive them out, but how do I find them,” I implore the whispering spirits of the farwardens that seem to surround me and fill the empty spaces of the chapel.
Again, I’m sticking with the weak hit.
“Few knew of my mission, or my intent,” says the heavy, accented voice of my friend and mentor, Reinhardt. “Someone in the town must have alerted the Robed Brotherhood – they were waiting for me in the Castle.”
So, the new danger is Qashida agents in the village.
I also need to Endure Stress from hearing the ghostly whispers of my dead farwardens. Awesome.
Oh for crying out loud.
Well, the consequences of a miss is -1 momentum, or I can burn EIGHT momentum for a weak hit that does nothing for me. No thanks. I’ll take the miss.
So that’s me coming into the village strong, with pretty much maxed out numbers, but now I’m down Spirit and Supply. I’m tired, I feel surrounded by enemies, and I have to get back to that damned castle. (On the upside, two new assets!)
“I’m taking a nap,” I mumble to Ireena and Ismark. “Don’t let anyone stab me.” Then I but collapse in a pew while the priest, bemused, looks on.
After our conversation with Leif Lipseige, whining accountant, we set off up the stairs, following Leif’s general directions, and I hit the dice to Delve the depths.
That’s a nice result. My Find an opportunity indicates I encounter someone who might support me. I give this a bit of a ponder (and check through the Oracle of the Ravenloft module) and think I’ve come up with something. (The Compel is explained a few lines down. Hang tight…)
We exit the stairwell at the next flight of stairs, head down a short hallway and through a door of delicately etched metal embossing.
Dust fills your lungs. The musty smell of death and decay swirls around you. Before you, a long table of polished oak lies beneath a blanket of dust. The rotting table cloth lies tattered beneath china plates and stained silverware. In the center of the table, a large, tiered cake leans heavily to one side. The once white frosting has turned green with age. Cobwebs drape like dusty lace down every side. A single doll figure of a well-dressed woman adorns the crest of the cake. A window in the south wall is draped with heavy curtains.
The room’s a bit of a mess, but what catches my eye is the movement on the far side of the table as someone gasps and hurries towards the doors to the north.
“Stop!” I call out. “We’re not here to hurt you.” (That’s a guess, but I don’t imagine I’m in a hurry to pulverize anyone whose first impulse is to gasp and run.
“Gertruda?” Ireena says, squinting in the gloom. “Is that you?”
It is. The daughter of the weeping “Mad Mary”, from back in the village. A quick check of the Oracle indicates Gertruda is largely oblivious to any danger to herself – she came here because she saw a castle in the distance and knew only good things of castles, thanks to years of fairy stories and tales of heroic princes falling in love with simple village girls. She’s been sheltered by her mother all of her life, and is innocent and naive to the point of being a danger to herself and others.
I’m less than charmed by the idiot girl, but I try to at least make an effort to be civil.
“Gertruda,” I say, “you’ve put a terrible fright and sadness into your mother. You need to go back home to the village. Now.”
I try for that compel (see roll, above), but only manage a weak hit, which means she wants some in return from me. In short, she’s got enough sense to realize she might not have done the safest or smartest thing, and she sees a big armored freewarden in front of her.
“You have to take me home,” she says, sniffling. “You have to protect me.”
She’s not right, strictly speaking.
But she’s not wrong, either. Dammit.
So, yes, fine, but we need to check out the room the accountant told us about. One more Delve the Depths move…
And, well, that’s pretty good, again. I choose to find some useful item – the thing the accountant told us about. According to the module/oracle, it’s the holy symbol of the Kolyana family, lying on a table in the study nearby.
A blazing hearth fire fills this room with rolling waves of red and amber light. The walls are lined with ancient books and tomes, their leather covers well oiled and preserved through careful use. All is in order here. The stone floor is hidden beneath a luxurious rug of a deep-patterned weave. A large, low table sits in the center of the room, waxed and polished to a mirrored finish. Even the poker next to the blazing fireplace is polished. Large, overstuffed divans and couches stand in order about the room. Two luxurious chairs face the hearth.
Also, because the holy symbol of the Burgomaster is here, I’ve decide the ***spirit *** of the Burgomaster is here as well, having found its way here after trodding the road from the graveyard, but he’s not looking at the holy symbol, he’s looking at the picture on the wall.
A huge painting hangs over the mantlepiece in a heavy, gilded frame. The rolling light of the fire illuminates the carefully rendered painting. It is an exact likeness of the Burgomaster’s daughter, Ireena Kolyana. Though the painting is obviously centuries old, the likeness is unmistakable.
Another bit of the Delve “opportunity” move means I get to immediately make a followup move with a bonus, and get momentum on a hit.
So I reflect on the spirit of the Burgomaster being present, and the picture that looks just like Ireena, and decide this freaks Ireena out: she doubts everything, and I need to talk her down by testing our Bond.
Well, lovely. That’s two more momentum and I’m counting this as progress on putting the Burgomaster’s spirit to rest – he sees Ireena has a loyal friend and ally. That’s hopefully enough progress, so let’ss see if I can’t wrap up that quest right here:
The burgomaster sees his daughter, sees how distraught she is, and sees her comforted by a friend. His soul finds peace, knowing his children are not alone in this dark world.
I’m keeping the “opportunity” this affords me simple: I’m going to use the XP I get from finishing this quest to pick up an a new aspect of one of my assets, or a new asset, right now, instead of waiting until I have some downtime – given what’s going on right now, I’m going to Ismark as a “Kindred” asset, for the same reasons as I had for finishing the Vow and putting the Burgomaster’s spirit to rest.
And now, thanks to Gertruda, it’s time to get the hell out of here. I’m going to Escape the Depths, using my Wits to retrace my steps.
Okay, weak hit, because my dice kinda hate me. Fine. I’m going with “a denizen plots their revenge” and make plans for some kind of retribution sent out after me as soon as the dice offer any kind of opening for shenanigans while I’m back in the village.
Whew. Okay. We retrace our steps, stopping at Lipseige long enough to let him gawk at the Holy Symbol of Barovia, but he gets more than a bit miffed I won’t leave it with him. What the blazes did he expect? He got to see it. Call it good.
We hurry down to the main floor, and make our way quickly to the chapel (eyeing the gargoyles in the main entry more than little warily), and with one long last look at Reinhardt. Need to get his body out of here, but not this time. Not yet.
And then we’re back out in the courtyard and slipping through the dark and drizzle. It’s a miserable slog back down the road, but we don’t stop until we reach the village and the church.
Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
The kids and I get back into another story of the Smartwood kids (a ‘kids on bikes’ hack of Lasers and Feelings) – this time, it’s all about the weird runic symbols on Ken’s whiffleball bat, and how they got there in the first place.
Here’s the video (with slightly leveled audio, because my kids are noisy).
Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge accountant’s desk. A old man slouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the old man from a hole in the ceiling.
“Please,” the man begins, raising an finger, but not looking up. “Please… please please… do not stand…” he continues to write something down in the huge ledger in front of him. “Do not stand… on the rug. It is… very old, and very valuable.” He looks up, setting his pen aside. “And you seem to be covered in grime and gargoyle entrails.” He sniffs, rubbing at his nose.
I can’t help but notice how close his upraised hand is from the bell rope hanging down from the ceiling.
“We shouldn’t damage anything so expensive,” he continues, his hand lowering to the desk as his eyes wander over the rug. “Well… it was now it is probably mostly sentimental who arrrrre you?” he asks, rolling his Rs like he has something to prove. “I am Leif Lipseige accountant to the baron. CHIEF accountant.” He pauses, seeming to consider this. “Also ONLY accountant.”
“Hello. Again. Who are you?”
“It’s not very important.”
“Well… I am curious. And if my curiosity is not very important and if your identity is not very important I suppose my curiosity and your identity go together very well.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I say nothing at all. Ismark coughs behind me.
Leif pats the air in front of him. “I… I do not mean to pry if you do not wish to tell me, that is fine… so what brings you to the castle of the Baron?”
Again, I give him stony silence. He seems to consider what he just asked and chuckles. “Ahh. I see. Yes. I am a curious old man. Habits.” He gestures at me. “It is only… it seems as though you’ve run into a bit of trouble. Not, ahh… entirely unexpected, I suppose, here…” he nods, regretfully. “I tend to stay to my own chambers. There are many unsavory ahh… employees of the Baron about here and you seem to be involved in ahh… I think it is safe to say ‘bloody business.’”
Something in my face seems to give him pause. “Oh, don’t worry about me; I’m harmless. I keep the books, but I am no… I am no minion.” His expression changes slightly – becomes a bit darker. “I’m supposed to be keeping track of the Baron’s riches and conquests and money but he hides things from me; he keeps… he keeps… he doesn’t let me know about all the treasure, so how can I keep track of all these treasures?”
“That… does seem difficult,” I deadpan, not sure what else to say.
Leif nods emphatically. “He keeps them secret from his own accountant! I was… that… it’s ridiculous!”
I get the sense he’s a little grumpy. Sure. One of the oldest living servants of the Baron, and he’s not trusted the one thing he’s supposed to be doing. And might be a teensy bit senile.
Leif is off and muttering. “… some treasures… ridiculous to … he does not … insulting …”
I look around for somewhere to sit, and spot a tall stool in the corner, then shift that direction a bit. It draws his attention back to me.
He squints at me. “Do you need to… clean up? Some of that blood on you is red, and seems to be… yours.”
He’s right. Given a moment of quiet, my hurts gather themselves into a unified caucus and come clamoring for my attention.
“I can help,” Ireena murmurs. “With a bit of time.”
I nod, surprised but happy with the offer. “I… may we make use of your room, here? For a short while?”
[Ugh. Miss. Causes a delay.]
“Of course… of course.” Leif’s smile crinkles around his eyes, but those eyes are hard and calculating, like any good accountant. His hand reaches out and settles lightly on the bell rope. “If you will do something for me.”
I feel Ireena’s hand tighten on my biceps as she stands behind me, I reach up and across, giving her fingers a squeeze of silence reassurance. (I hope).
I think it’s about time the girls form a Bond.
… and WONDER OF WONDERS the dice actually agree!
I’m taking the momentum, since my Spirit is maxed already.
I pull myself up onto the tall stool standing in the corner, acting calm. “If you don’t mind talking while we see this?”
Leif blanches a bit as I pull off my tunic and begin working the chainmail shirt off, but nods. Ireena makes a noise at the cuts and bruises that made it through the armor – Ismark is nowhere to be seen at the moment – and pulls poultice and bandage materials out of my pack, once I tell her where they are.
[I’m rolling to heal myself with my own skills, so +iron, since Ireena isn’t a full companion or anything, but I’m taking a +1 for having a Bond with her. Which. Whatever. Dunno if that’s R.A.W., but it feels right. Anyway.]
Okay, so I’m going to take -1 momentum and -1 Supply for +2 health. Again, I’m not sure that’s ENTIRELY legal (maybe I have to take it all from one source or the other or something), but it makes sense in the narrative, because this (and Leif) are slowing me down (-momentum) and we’re digging through the pack for supplies. So. Whatever. Let the rules match the story.
“There is a thing… an object. A treasure I wish to see.” He waves his hands. “Not have, you understand, but see. Record, as the Baron’s accountant. Has has it, I am told” (those words are bitter) in a study, one floor up and through a dining room located off the same stairs you climbed to reach me. Bring it to me.”
I consider this. “All right.”
I do, though not as an Iron Vow, since I’m all full up on that, and that’s where I’m going to stop for now, healed up and with Ismark lurking out in the stairwell.
Dinner with the Baron
Okay, here we go with the next part of the Delve.
In the Delve rules, I’m categorizing Castle Ravenloft as an Ancient (Theme) Stronghold (Domain). Before I progress, I check the oracle for that theme and domain and see that I’m progressing toward a “Large Hall.” Cool, that tells me where to go, in general, based on what GM-me knows of the place.
Brigitte looks around the chapel. Two of the smaller side archways seem to lead into alcoves that (she guesses) either dead end or lead into stairwells – probably up the dark balcony overlooking the chapel itself.
The main double doors are what draw her attention.
“These should lead us back toward the central portion of the castle,” she says.
“You say that like it’s a good thing,” Ismark says, though he helps her pull the doors open.
Mark progress. Okay. Looking around at the other options non the table tells me that this is fairly middling result – nothing particularly good or bad. Fair enough. How do I see envision the next section?
In my case, the Delve the Depths move tells me sort of where I should end up, and from there I’m using some of the “Oracle” of the Ravenloft module to get me there.
The double doors open into a long hallway: dusty, long unused, and lined with statues whose eyes seem to follow us as we move past them.
The doors at the western end of the hall are bound in heavy bronze, but aren’t blocked or locked. We swing them open and move into the great entry hall of the castle.
Cobwebs hang from dust-covered columns that line this hall, illuminated by lit (?!?) torches fluttering in sconces. The dust and webs cast strange, moving shadows across the faces of stone gargoyles squatting atop the columns, all around the rim of the domed ceiling of the room. The cracked and faded ceiling frescoes are largely impossible to make out after what may be centuries of neglect. To the north, a broad staircase climbs into darkness.
Sad and majestic organ tones float from a lit hallway to the south.
Okay. Lots to process here. Double doors to the west probably lead to the entryway of the castle. Fine. The stairs seem broad enough to be meant for “public” traffic, so that’s probably going to take us to some kind of big receiving space or a grand hall or dining room or … something.
South is tricky, because on the one hand, it’s lit and more welcoming and generally seems ‘interesting’ because there’s music coming from that direction, but on the other hand there’s the thing where it seems like we were expected and that whole direction seems to scream “COME CHECK THIS OUT IT IS WHERE YOU ARE MEANT TO GO.”
By the same token, I do NOT want to hang around this room, because those gargoyles make me REALLY NERVOUS.
So. Yeah, I’m heading for the trap. Let’s follow the music.
I’m not burning all my momentum just for a Weak hit, so I’ll take the miss and Reveal a Danger.
I can work with that.
Torchlight flutters against the walls of this vaulted hall. To the east, a dark and forbidding hallway runs into darkness. Beside that opening, a suit of armor, oiled and glistening, stands on display in a shallow alcove – the first thing we’ve seen not covered in dust. To the west, large double doors hang slightly open, a steady bright light escaping through the opening. Swells of organ music come from behind the doors, spilling a melody of power and defeat into the hall.
I’m definitely going to check out the slightly open doorway, and I want to be sneaky, which (like my last Delve the Depths) is based on Shadow, which so far as been a total disaster for me. But nevertheless…
Okay, I’m taking this as a Weak hit, in which I am “delayed or lose advantage (-1 momentum).” I think falling for this lure means I’ve somewhat dropped into the channel Strahd has set for his visitors. Here’s what we see through the crack in the door.
This is a magnificent 40-foot-square room, brilliantly lit by three massive crystal chandeliers. Pillars of stone stand against dull white marble walls, supporting the ceiling. In the center of the room, a long, heavy table stands covered with a fine white satin cloth. The table is laden with delectable foods of every type: roasted beast basted in a savory sauce, roots and herbs of every taste, and sweet fruits and vegetables. Places are set for four (one at the head of the table) with fine delicate china and silver. At each place there is a crystal goblet filled with an amber liquid. At the center of the far west wall, between floor-to-ceiling length mirrors, stands a massive organ. Its pipes blare out a thunderous melody of greatness and despair. Seated before the keys, its back toward you, a caped figure pounds the keys in raptured ecstasy.
Slowly, the music winds down and the caped figure turns on the stool before the organ to face the door, seeming to look directly at us. I hear Ireena suck in a sharp breath.
Now, I’m a genre and rpg nerd, so there’s a great big Vampire Lore clue in this scene, but when I ran it with my daughter, she totally missed it because she didn’t KNOW it – so I’m introducing it as one of those “weird vampire things that may or may not be common knowledge,” and seeing if Brigitte catches it. I’m doing this as a Gather Information.
My kingdom for a Strong Hit.
Okay, weak hit, the information complicates the quest or introduces a new danger. +1 momentum.
The figure at the organ raises a graceful hand. “Please. Be welcome in my home. Come in. Dine.”
Ireena trembles at my side, but I barely notice – what has my attention is the fact that Strahd can be seen in the mirrors on either side of the organ. Everything the farwardens have ever been told about these fell creatures of the night say that should not be the case.
“It’s some kind of illusion,” I whisper. “A vampire casts no reflection.” I indicate the mirrors, through the cracked doors.
“Please,” alleged ‘Strahd’ says, “come out of the shadows and into the light. Let me see you.”
“Illusion it may be,” Ismark whispers back. “But it’s no mindless thing – it knows we are not yet in the room… or whatever controls it does.”
It’s not a comforting thought, but I feel Ireena calm herself somewhat, realizing she is not facing the monster of Barovia directly. I turn to her. “It is nothing, see? Only a trick. A puppet show.”
It is not Ireena who replies, but the figure of Strahd. “A puppet show? Oh, delightful!” And it laughs: long and loud and mocking, and then vanishes.
The moment the figure disappears, a fierce, bone-chilling wind roars through the halls, blowing out all torches and candles. We hear the screech of ancient hinges and the solid thud of heavy doors slamming shut, one after another, off into the distance; a portcullis clangs down in the middle distance and, ponderously the tired groan of the aged drawbridge pulling up.
Crystal sings in the darkness of the dining room as the great chandeliers rustle in the sudden wind. The fragrance of food wafts its way through the darkened hall.
“I think we may have offended our host,” Ismark mutters. “We should move.”
“One moment,” I say, shoving doors open, much to my companion’s surprise. Ismark manages one aggrieved “hssssst!” as I stride into the now dark room, following my nose and unslinging my pack.
We’re being taunted by the smell of food and right now my Supply is at 3, so…
Oh screw you, dice. What the hell, man.
Fine. The game wants me to burn momentum so bad, I will. Strong hit on Resupply says “on a strong hit, you bolster your resources. Take +2 supply.
I scoop the fruit and some of the least messy foods, working mostly by smell and touch, wrap them up in cloth napkins probably worth more than all the clothes I’m wearing, and jam them into my pack, then stride back to the door, where Ismark has got a torch going.
“Now, we can move on.”
“I’m angry,” I say, though my face and voice are calm, my eyes scanning the area. “This Strahd is picking the wrong sort of fight.”
I’m going to Delve the Depths again, and roll the Oracle to get an idea where I’m headed: a 97 means “Something Unusual or Unexpected.” Duly noted, Oracle. Thanks. Now then…
I’m Delving based on Observation and Intuition (what I can see, and what my gut tells me), so that means +wits – to heck with any more of this +Shadow nonsense.
That’s fine. I roll and get a 43 on the results table, marking Progress on my way to “Something Unusual or Unexpected.”
Brigitte takes in her options. Heading back to the main hall with the gargoyles looming seems like a bad plan, the only other option then is the dark, narrow hallway just across from the dining room of Vampiric Fuckery.
Theory: Vampires are melodramatic as a form of behavior-based informational security. While their ridiculous collection of odd mannerisms make it easy to tag them as vampires, it also makes it extremely difficult to tell which of those mannerisms stem from an esoteric weakness or limitation on their powers, and which are just them being fuckin extra. In this essay I will…
A chilly wind rushes down the circling stairway at the end of this short hall, seeming to kill the very heat of the torch Ismark carries. The stairs spiral both up into the castle and down into the depths.
I do NOT feel like going down into the depths right now, so it’s up one floor and an unadorned wooden door…
Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge accountant’s desk. A old man slouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the old man from a hole in the ceiling.
And… that’s where I’m stopping for now. Next time, we’ll meet Lief Lipsiege, accountant. (Something unusual or unexpected.)
WHEW it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to play.
Okay, when we last saw our heroes, Brig was kneeling over the body of her mentor, Reinhardt, who seems to have died while fighting some berobed figure in the shadows of a long-abandoned chapel in Castle Ravenloft. Rather than his great hammer and mighty shield, she finds him with a silvery-headed flail in hand, and that plus the silver figurine on the altar reminds of Brig of an old, old legend among the farwardens – one of the stories Reinhardt used to tell her when she was too young to even dream of joining him in his adventures.
If she’s right, the figurine is one of the greatest – perhaps THE greatest – relics of the farwardens, the Icon of Ahmeshki. So old it predates the farwardens arrival in these cold lands. If it is the Icon, the weapon in her mentor’s grip is the Flail of the Heavens, always associated with the prophecies that tell of the Icon’s return.
Ismark nods as I retrieve the weapon, feeding the chain of the flail back into hollowed handle, then twisting and locking the head into the end, to form a mace – it’s a familiar weapon design among the farwardens, though she never guessed why.
[So what I’m initially doing with the Flail is introducing it as an Artifact, which just means it’s “this thing that narratively allows a thing, or makes a thing happen.” In this case, it basically “steps down” Strahd as an opponent from Epic to ‘merely’ Extreme. As Brig continues and becomes accustomed to the thing (and if I ever get any XP), I’ll ‘unlock’ the weapon as an Asset or maybe Rarity. For now, it’s just a cool mace/flail thing.]
Ismark gestures to the slim silver figure on the altar. “I’m not much for churches, but it seems an important thing.”
“It is,” Brigitte reaches across Reinhard, laying him flat on the flagstones and arranging his arms in peace. She stands, then approaches the altar. “I’ll need to get it out of this place, and soon, but not immediately.” She reaches out, then hesitates.
“I will return this Icon to hallowed ground, and from that bastion, bring it to the Wardens.”
[Troublesome vow: get the Icon to the hallowed ground of the chapel of Barovia.]
I could burn Momentum on this for a Strong hit, but I’d rather not. A weak hit still gives me +1 momentum, taking me to 10, and I think Brig’s plan of “take it with me, but don’t head straight out of here” seems aimless enough for “not sure what to do next.”
Okay, I also want some kind of test of worthiness, here, not least because I think that’s going to be the first step in getting this thing out of here – if Brig’s not worthy enough, she’s going to need Ismark or, more like, Ireena, to carry the thing.
Brig reaches to pick up the thing, her expression tight, as if she expects a shock at the touch.
[The most amusing thing about is it marks the first time I’ve actually used the Face Danger move, which in many PbTA games is one of the most commonly hit.]
Again, I could burn momentum on this for a strong hit, but I kind of like the “-1 momentum” cost of a weak hit.
Brigitte doesn’t flinch, and there is no sign touching the Icon cost her, but her expression is still troubled. Thoughtful. Her life has become much more complicated in a very short time. She tucks the Icon carefully in her pack. “Let’s move. We’ve more to do here.”
[-1 momentum, but marking progress on the quest to get the Icon out of here]
When she looks up from her pack, Ireena is looking down solemnly at Reinhardt, her eyes lowered. Brigitte wonders if she should say something, but Ismark interrupts her train of thought.
“Who’s the robed fellow with the dent in his head, do you think?” He nudges the remains of Reinhardt’s opponent with a toe.
[I don’t know what Brigitte might know here, so I’m going to use a move to see what’s up.]
And there’s the first time having the higher stat array on Brig would have made a difference.
Okay, that’s a dire threat or unwelcome truth.
Brigitte seems to actually see the figure for the first time. Her expression goes slack. “The Qashida?” She reached down, tugging aside the hood, exposing a strange, broken-glass patterned tattoo on the man’s neck. “They’re…”
“A terrifying bedtime story, suddenly all to real?” Ismark finishes. He looks meaningfully around the chapel. “There’s a lot of that going around.”
I’m adding the Qashida as a Threat to the epic Vow to get answers about/avenge the disappearance of the farwardens, and Advancing the Threat by one, right away.
Somehow, somewhere, the Qashida know what’s going on, and they’re coming. Suuuuper.
[Also, in reading up on threats for the first time in the actual Delve rulebook, I realize I’ve assigned the Threat of Strahd to a vow that’s “too high” for a threat. I need to think about how to address that, but for now I’m leaving it.]
Now, let’s get out of here:
EXITS: The center of the western wall has a great double door that leads into the rest of the ground floor of the castle. On either side of the great door are smaller, arched openings that lead into smaller shadowed alcoves and stairwells.
“We need to move now before more of those….things come for us.”
Ismark and Ireena nod, glancing around – Ismark uneasily, Ireena more resigned, but both on guard.
Okay. Map time…
- This is where we left the rubble remains of the gargoyle behind. There’s a faint footpath through the courtyard, through a small gate, now open again, and into…
A smaller courtyard that houses an overgrown, neglected garden, with small flowers reaching sadly skyward against the gloom.
An overlook over the precipice. Dead leaves turn spirals on this large stone balcony, wheeling and careening over the stone railing. Heavy clouds overhead drizzle constantly. The stone construct juts out at least 20 feet away from the cliff face, and looks down on the dim lights of the village of Barovia, far, far below.
The building to our left as we slipped into the overgrown-flower-garden-courtyard is probably, based on the outside of the structure, the castle’s chapel – with faint light leaking out of the windows. “It is so strange to see a space dedicated to the holy, in this unholy place,” murmurs Ireena. There doesn’t seem to be any easy way to get into the chapel from this courtyard – there is no door from the outside into the building in this area. However, the walls of the chapel are pierced by many tall windows. These windows were probably once stained glass art, but most of that glass is broken out, and the windows themselves have been covered with boards. It MIGHT be possible to get into the castle via the chapel, if you can manage to pull or break the boards that block the windows.
- The northern courtyard surrounding the castle. A quick glance spots a carriage house in the corner of the space, and that MIGHT mean there is a servant’s entrance into the castle in this area as well. (Call it likely, if I use the Oracle.)
We’ll want to move quickly if we want to keep anyone from tracking us down from the noise we made.
And, I mean, all this is interesting and cool, but let’s be honest: I’m breaking into the castle through the boarded up chapel windows
I’m not sure how well this is going to work, but I’m going to engage the Delve mechanics for this. I’m going to call the Castle an Extreme site.
Well okay. Nice start for us.
Delve the Depths says I get to Find An Opportunity:
FIND AN OPPORTUNITY
When you encounter a helpful situation or feature within a site, roll on the following table OR if you are making this move as a result of a strong hit on Delve the Depths, you may pick or envision an opportunity instead of rolling.
Then, choose one:
- Gain insight or prepare: Take +1 momentum.
- Take action now: Make a move which directly leverages the opportunity. When you do, add +1 and take +1 momentum on a hit.
I’m going with “you locate an interesting or Useful object.” And let’s see what’s inside…
Dim spots of colored light filter through broken and boarded up stained glass windows, barely illuminating the ancient chapel. Pews and benches lie about the floor in jumbled disarray, coated with centuries of dust.
Slightly above the room’s debris, lit by a single, dim shaft of moonlight, an altar stands upon the platform before the boarded-up windows we pulled open. The light falls directly on a small figurine of pure silver. This room seems as though nothing has disturbed it in centuries, and that nothing ever could.
BEFORE THE ALTAR, ON THE FLOOR
A black-robed figure, long-dead, lies collapsed before the altar, still clutching a rusted, curved blade in one skeletal hand, as though he died with his back to the altar. … actually, as you come around the altar, you see that he died because his head was crushed. A great, silver-headed flail – still pristine – has all but demolished the corpse’s skull. The former wielder of the mace is there as well, long-dead and lying on its side on the steps leading up to the platform. The second corpse wears rusting armor, covered by a tunic emblazoned with a centuries-old symbol of the same knightly order you serve.
The center of the western wall has a great double door that leads into the rest of the ground floor of the castle. On either side of the great door are smaller, arched openings that lead into smaller shadowed alcoves and stairwells.
Ireena, looking at the mace, murmurs “a weapon of light – a weapon with a vengeance – you may find this amid the ruins of a place of prayer.” She shivers, looking around. The Vistani fortune teller woman had true sight, it seems. ”
Okay, so there’s a cool shiny toy, but first I want to know about the tableau of violence. I’m going to ask the oracle if this guy in farwarden livery is someone I know.
Oracle says “yes” with a 98.
Is it Reinhardt?
Oracle says “yes” with a 52. Whoa. Okay.
Ireena watches as I kneel near the armored warrior. “Did you know him?”
I can only nod. “The spirit from the graveyard.” A sad, fleeting smile. “The big one.”
“He seems a great knight,” says Ismark. “And wielded a mighty weapon.”
I nod, but I’m frowning. “Actually, Reinhardt favored a great hammer. I’ve never seen that mace before.”
Rolling +wits on this, +1 for having a bond with Reinhardt. I get a 9, versus a 2, and 9 on the Challenge dice. Weak hit, BUT WAIT: my Find an Opportunity strong hit gave me a +1 to this move as well, which makes that 9 a 10. Strong hit!
On a strong hit, you discover something helpful and specific. The path you must follow or action you must take to make progress is made clear. Envision what you learn (Ask the Oracle if unsure), and take +2 momentum.
That’s pretty nice, plus I get another +1 momentum from the Find an Opportunity move, which gets me to 9, and I’m marking a milestone on my “Investigate/Avenge the missing members of the Freewardens” backstory quest.
“The action you must take to make progress is made clear.” Is it? Cuz I’m kind of scratching my head a little bit.
I hit the Action and Theme oracles and get “Hide Memory.” Ooh. Okay. I can do something with that.
So, we have some kind of fight here between a berobed shadowy figure, and a member of the farwardens. Shadow-robe guy trying to block the altar (maybe?), Reinhardt killing him, but dying himself..
Something about the whole thing tickles at the back of Brigitte’s mind – an old legend, or prophecy, or maybe – no – one of the oldest vows ever sworn on iron by anyone in the wardens – some would say the original oath – a vow every member undertakes, symbolically (they thought), when they join the farwardens. A holy relic. Find it and return it to the light.
It’s… impossible. Ridiculous. It’s a myth. A legend. A symbol, not an actual thing.
[I’m imagining here something akin to a knight ten generations removed from King Arthur but nominally part of the same order of the Knights of the Round Table, on an entirely different mission, and literally stumbling across their mentor, who died two steps from the literally Holy Grail. Which is a real thing?!? WTF?]
And if that little figurine on the altar is…
That would make that flail in Reinhardt’s hand…
Oh. Oh crap.
Okay, it looks like time for our first actual fight in the system, so I figured I ought to take the time to make sure I get it right – there are a few more moving pieces with combat than some other situations, because RPG. Anyway.
First, to review:
Brig has pushed up the rusty portcullis separating the southern forecourt from hind court, and Ismark and Ireena scrambled through. I was left to figure out how to get let the gate down and get out from under the thing without making a godawful racket and alert the whole castle.
While this is happening, a gargoyle dropped down from the buttresses above (see picture) and into the courtyard just behind the Koyanas, and Brig’s choices got a lot simpler.
Brigitte charges, and the first thing I’m wondering is whether that gate comes crashing down right away. It could make it a move, but honestly there’s not a lot of skill being applied here – it’s just dumb luck, and I’d guess there’s about a 50/50 chance that the rusted track lets the portcullis slam back down.
Well, okay then. The gate is a little shimmied in the track, and when Brig lunges free, it slips a couple inches, gets hung up and cockeyed, and sticks. Lucky us, so far.
Brigitte charges at and past her new friends, both of them wide-eyed and a little surprised – years of training making the unlimbering of shield and mace an automatic thing.
I don’t need the gargoyle to be some terrible foe – I suspect they may be pretty common, at least around the outer grounds of the castle – but they’re more than a basic farmer with an angry pitchfork, so let’s make this thing a Dangerous opponent. (Inflicts 2 harm, takes 2 progress per harm.)
Then, roll to determine who’s in control. Ooh, I get to roll +heart. Nice. (Burning 10 momentum on a basic roll reminded me I didn’t envision Brigitte being very stealthy, and that I didn’t give her the stats to pull it off.)
Very cool. I have initiative (which doesn’t mean what it means in DnD), and +2 to my momentum track, which moves things in a happier direction.
With initiative, I can go for a Strike (which acknowledges I have the edge here) instead of Clash (which is a riskier kind of melee exchange).
Brigitte’s charge isn’t a means of closing the distance – it is the attack, in a very real sense, and her momentum only builds as she charges across the courtyard, each step coming faster than the last. She smashes straight into the gargoyle, leading with her heavy, reinforced shield – the mace blow she follows up with is almost an afterthought.
It’s… super neat when I write up a really cool opening attack and the dice just SCREW me. Ahh well.
The gargoyle is ready for Brig’s attack, and it catches the shield with both it’s clawed hands, absorbing the impact even as it’s pushed back a few steps. It takes the mace strike on a shoulder, like a teenager shrugging off a younger siblings attack in a pillow fight, and then reaches over the shield with a stony claw. Brig likewise turns a shoulder to protect from the claw, and the thing gets the strap of her pack, pulling, then tearing it. Triple-stitched, reinforced leather tears like wet paper, and half the contents of Brig’s pack spray across the courtyard, first at the thing tears at it, then as Brigitte pulls back and tosses it aside.
[-2 supply, based on the Oracle’s result. Super. Also, the thing has initiative now, which means I’m Clashing.]
Brigitte shucks the pack away and wades back in, stalking now, rather than charging.
Gaaaad dammit. I cannot get a break. Okay. Keeping it a bit more simple this time, I’m going for the obvious Pay the Price of Enduring Harm. The thing’s claws are just tearing through my gear like it’s nothing. I’m taking 2 harm (since this is a Dangerous foe) and Enduring Harm:
I don’t know how to feel about being more lucky when it comes time to take a beating than give one, but whatever; I’ll take it. The 8 comes from a +1 I get from my Ironclad asset, which also gives me a +1 momentum on a hit, which I’ll happily take.
The strong hit on Endure Harm means I can choose either to exchange a momentum for +1 health, OR take another +1 momentum. In the long term, I’ll probably want the health – it’s harder to recover than momentum, but that +5 momentum might help me turn the tide RIGHT NOW.
Also, I should give through to that Match. That gives me an opportunity, and it want it to be a real one this time (I’ve been bad about making my positive matches kind of weak, sometimes.
SO: okay. I’m going to take the ‘heal’ option, I think, but I think that Match gives Brig initiative back.
Brig would have sworn she was wearing armor, but you’d never know it from the way this thing is tearing at her. If it weren’t for her shield – for the years of training against her mentor (also bigger and stronger than her), she’s be cooling meat on the cobblestones already. Even so, she’s reeling, stumbling back.
And then and arrow skips off the things head. Then another, snapping and striking sparks. Ismark is stringing a third arrow, and his sister is at his side, sword out and ready for the things charge.
The gargoyle turns, lowers its head, growls (somehow? It doesn’t have a throat!), and takes two steps… before Brigitte crashes into it from the side.
[You know, I’ve pondered on several occasions whether I should move Brig to the “challenging” stat array, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve yet to miss a roll by anything close enough that one more point would matter. This is no exception.]
Okay, so I need to pay the price, but I don’t want to just ‘hit point’ them back and forth, so let’s keep it interesting and see what the Oracle says.
Alright FINE. Asshole oracle, anyway. I take Harm (2, again), and Endure Harm. (Again, +1 from my ironclad.)
Same situation as last time, but without the twist. I’m not going to pick anything else, either – I don’t relish trying to get my health back up in an enemy castle, so I want to mitigate as much of that as I can. This means my heath is +3, and my Momentum stays stead at 3, thanks to getting one from my Ironclad and then trading it right away, twice.
The charge was exactly as effective as the last one.
“Get behind me!” I shout at Ismark and Ireena; my shield is up and I’m circling the thing, trying to maneuver it somewhere useful. Further back into the courtyard? No. Wait, WE can go further in. Yes. Maybe. Find another gate. Something we can get between us and this thing. “Try to get past and see what’s ahead!”
I’m going to Face Danger, using my shield as cover, which gives me a +1. I’ll take whatever break I can, frankly.
Ooh, and that +1 is just what I needed for the Strong Hit. I could kiss my shield right now.
Probably will, later.
So, the new plan looks like this:
I’m going to try to Secure Advantage while Ismark and Ireena slip past me and I keep this stony bastard busy.
“The good news is, the gate’s up!” calls out Ismark. “The bad news is, it’s probably rusted in place.”
Eh. Fine. No worse than a strong Face Danger – +1 momentum is a net good, undeniably.
“Fine.” I grit my teeth and plant myself in front of the opening, and ready myself for the thing’s next attack, wishing I had heavier armor on. [seriously, it would really help my on this Clash roll…]
Inflict your harm, but then Pay the Price. Your foe has initiative.
Finally at HIT at least. That fills the first 4 of the ten ‘progress’ boxes on this enemy.
I’m ready for the thing’s claws this time – mostly – I catch the first slash on the edge of the shield, then bash it over the eye ridge with my mace, right where Ismark’s arrow left me a bright white target gash. The thing punches straight out with its other club-like fist, right at my chest.
I take it on my shield again (seriously, totally having a shield make-out session later); I stumble back into the wall next to the gate, and slam into a release catch hidden beneath the vines on the wall. The small portcullis gate come rattling down, narrowly missing Ismark, and cutting me off.
Our eyes meet through the grating.
“Shit,” he says.
I turn back to the gargoyle and clench my jaw. “Yes.” Then I charge.
[Note: this is stupid. I want to acknowledge, for the record, how stupid this is, before I roll.]
Okay, I’m Turning the Tide. I’m taking back initiative, and going straight for a Strike (getting out of this fight by just getting away is no longer an easy or likely option, thanks to that gate coming down.)
According to Turn the Tide, I get a +1 on the roll, and +1 momentum on a hit. Cross all your fingers…
YES! Oh hell yes!
“On a strong hit, inflict +1 harm and retain initiative.” HELL yes.
Okay, that’s 3 harm, each one of which fills in 2 boxes on the progress track, which maxes the track out with all ten boxes filled. Nice! I’m coming off a strong hit, so let’s End this Fight.
… seriously fuck you, dice.
The creature wasn’t expecting either the timing or ferocity of the attack. My mace comes down once, twice, a third time – claws shoved aside and then joints attacked, until the stone begins to the crack and, once cracked, break.
I do not stop. The smashing, breaking, growling attack does not let up until the thing is rubble at my feet and I am covered in thick, violet ichor with an eye-watering, sour odor.
I shuffle over to my pack, retrieve what I can, and shuffle back to the gate, where Ismark is dragging the chains back up.
“You smell -” Ireena begins.
“Don’t.” I say. “Don’t say it. I can’t hear anyone say it.”
[I’m picking Others won’t forget. You are marked for vengeance. Because seriously: fuck gargoyles.]
The Gates of the Castle
So I’ve been sick for about a week, and finally feeling well enough to get back to Brigitte and Ismark and Ireena. During the break, I spent a bit of time wondering if I missed a chance to swear a vow to Madam Eva – something about breaking the Vistani’s arrangement to Strahd. It’s interesting, because in a ‘normal’ game of Ironsworn I think I would have been quick obvious to do something like that, but with Ravenloft it never occured to me, since the vistani themselves are little more than set dressing (and sometimes a random encoutner) as originally presented.I got stuck in that mindset.
I’m not so far along in the story I couldn’t go back and retcon the vow, but I decide not to – mostly because it’s pretty redundant with other vows i already have going, and because I just have one more ‘open’ vow slot left, and I’d like to save it for something … I dunno. Different. We’ll see.
Once again, we continue up the dark, fog-shrouded road, dead leaves crackling under foot. The road splits in two again, after several miles. A narrower road, curving back northeast, continues toward the castle, while a broader track road leads west into the heart of the mountains and dense forest. Cobblestones still show up in patches on both, but neither sees either much attention or traffic, these days.
[Oracle: Do I stick with the cliche thing at the crossroads, from the module? I think it’s unlikely, and the oracle agrees, so we’re tossing the two-horse carriage waiting for us.]
After passing between the nearest peaks, the narrower road takes a sudden turn around the shoulder of granit and startling, awesome presence of Ravenloft itself towers ahead and above. Ismark comes to a stop just in front of twin guardhouses of turreted stone, broken from years of exposure. Beyond these, a 50-foot-wide crevice gapes between the cliff and the walls of the castle, a chasm that disappears into the darkness below. A lowered drawbridge of old, shorn-up wood beams sags slightly between us and the arched entrance to the courtyard. The slack chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs above the entry tunnel.
[Basically this, but with no eye-glowing crows.]
Through the gates and on the far side of the courtyard, the main doors Castle Ravenloft stand open. A rich, warm light spills out into the courtyard. Torches flutter sadly in sconces on both sides of the open doors.
If I want to go in, pretty much the only way is across the drawbridge, which looks reasonably sound but also like it’s definitely suffering from long years of exposure.
So it’s not a question of where we’re going but how; whether we go in like we were invited, or go quick and quiet and try to get out of sight.
Yeah, DEFINITELY want to sneak in.
Yeah I’m also DEFINITELY not going to start things off with that crappy roll, so let’s burn my momentum and get into the castle a little further than the front gates before things go south.
The drawbridge looks a bit rough but it’s more than strong enough for three people walking. Once through the portcullis and into the entry proper, we can either go right up to the front doors of the castle (no), or sort of circle around the castle out in the courtyard and see if I can find an alternate entrance.
Thick cold fog swirls around in this darkened courtyard. Sporadic flashes of lightning lance the clouds overhead, but too far away to cause much thunder. Light rain patters down, sporadically.
Directly ahead, the large main doors of the castle are wide open. Warm light spills from those open doors into the courtyard. The dark towers of the keep loom above in the mists and drizzle.
Ismark eyes the open doors of the castle. “I’m concerned they’re expecting us.” His tone is flat with irony.
Brigitte might be able to explore the courtyard around to the northern side of the castle, where she can see carriage tracks worn into the damp ground, or south and around, which seems to see less traffic.
1 is roughly Brig&co..
2 and 3 are ways we can circle around the castle.
4 is the wide open front doors.
Brig could also maybe try to get up on top the wall along the walkways, but with the mist and rain, the walls are going to be quite slick and hard to climb.
After a bit of pondering, Brig opts to head south and around the castle (3).
The walls of the castle don’t have many arrow slits or windows in the front half of the side courtyard, and those that do (right off the corner tower) let into a room that is completely dark. It’s impossible to make out anything inside.
A massive wall separates the side courtyard’s ‘front’ and back, (that wall just past #3), and connects the walls of the castle to the outer walls of the keep. That big wall is pierced by a single gate, 20 feet wide, leading through the joining wall. The gate is blocked by a rusting portcullis, which is
[Oracle: Raised? Unlikely. No.]
NOT raised. Brig will have to try to move it to keep going here. Or double back. Luckily, she IS strong enough to give it a try…
[Face Danger, with Iron – I could maybe be using some rules from Delve here, but give me a break, I’m still sick..]
Ugh. -1 momentum kind of sucks, since I’m already down to 2, but I like that better than anything else. “Face a new Danger, hmm? Okay…”
Brigitte strains to lift the massive iron portcullis, pushing it up through the rusting grooves in the gate opening, and (with a bit of Ismark’s help) manages to get it up to about shoulder height – barely – at which point both he and Ireena slip underneath and through, and I try to figure out how I am going to get through and let the gate down without alerting the whole castle to our location.
Ismark and Ireena have backed away from the portcullis to give me room to get under and dive away from the gate, if that’s what I decide to do, and they are both watching me, so they don’t see the hulking, humanoid shadow rise up from the eaves of the castle several floors above us, and drop – silent as a cat on soft grass – into the stone courtyard behind them, it’s broad wings flaring.
Again, my two companions aren’t looking that direction, but with Ismark’s torch raised, high, I can see the looming form of … one of the castle gargoyles, come to life through some horrid magic, and coming toward them!
Brigitte just drops the gate and charges.
Also, we’re doing kind of a hacked system, blending DDiV with Ironsworn; I liked the idea of two emerald dice opposing the characters in Moves. Also, it’s nice to bring in progress charts for goals and fights. We’re keeping Talents from DDiV and using them in place of Momentum, which works really nicely and also dials the game tone from ‘grim’ to ‘challenging and rough, since you can use them more often, but REALLY need a friend to take full advantage,’ which matches the tone/setting nicely.
The left fork of the road slants upward slightly, heading up into the mountains – it this road up which most of the spirits continue to travel.
The right fork slants slightly downward, toward what looks like the base of the mountains, rather than their peaks.
At the fork, I see Liqa, standing next Reinhardt. They are both staring silently down the righthand, downward traveling path, away from the route the other spirits have taken.
Reinhardt regards the smaller path solemnly, then turns to me.
As I approach, the two spirits stare meaningfully at us, but say nothing. They look back at the smaller path, then turn – seeming exhausted – and trudge up the larger road the rest of the spirits have already taken, leaving me at the crossroads, with a decision to make.
I’m heading right. It seems like there are clues to be found there.
The canopy of mist and branches overhead suddenly gives way to a clearing, near a wide spot in the river. Dry grass rustles in the wind. Colorful wagons are parked along the banks of a pool. The strains of an accordion mix and a somewhat desultory fiddle mix with the the wind in the trees. Several – perhaps as many as 10 – brightly clad figures surround a large, roaring fire. The seldom used road passes close by this camp.
As I approach, several voices call out “Hale from the fire, join our singing and break bread with us” – a traditional greeting among the mysterious travelers known as the Vistani.
I’m a little surprised to realize they know I’m here, as I’m still far from their firelight, but they seem friendly enough.
As we approach, they wave us in toward the fire and offer bread and a skin of wine. Ismark and Ireena accept both graciously – Ireena in particular seems comfortable with the fireside etiquette – no, that’s not fair – both of them are, but it’s more surprising that Ireena can tip the wineskin and get a perfect stream into her mouth. Ismark seems more the type, I suppose.
I accept both bread and wine, taking what hospitality requires, and ask the vistani why they make camp so close to the castle in the mountains. (The pool next to their camp lies near a waterfall that tumbles from the heights above, and Ireena glances at it often.)
They shrug it off a bit. “we know how to stay safe from night creatures,” they say, but at the same time none of them look up at the high cliffs where the castle looms far overhead.
“Also,” one adds, poking the fire and not looking at us directly, “Madam Eva told us we might have visitors tonight… If you are willing, she wanted to speak with you.”
They nod in the direction of one of the wagons. Not the largest, but the most brightly painted.
We spend a few more minutes with the Vistani, so as not to seem rude, then I use the lateness of the hour as an excuse to visit this Madam Eva quickly.
[Spooky fortune teller! Check off another Bingo box for creepy fantasy story]
Madame Eva doesn’t even look up when I enter the shrouded door of her wagon. She is shuffling and dealing an oversized deck of cards onto the small table in front of her.
[Gather Information – a strong hit, which I’m going to let ride throughout this scene, since it’s potentially chock-a-block with information both explicit and vagued-up.]
“They said, at the fire, you wanted to talk with us,” I say.
“They lied to you, at the fire.” She glances up and catches my expression. “Oh, not about that, I did want to talk to you – all of you.” She shakes her head. “But the reason we don’t have to worry about von Zarovich is because some of our people do his bidding and have insured – they believe – the Family’s safety from his other minions.”
She makes a show of miming spitting to the side in disgust.
“Do they really believe he will leave your Family alone?” I ask, trying to seem unperturbed at being surrounded by enemies.
Eva shrugs. “He has, for several Generations. We are… useful… to him.” Again she looks disgusted.
Her eyes flicker up to us again, then the cards. “But I can see you will attempt to bring the monster down, and I would offer you what guidance I can,” she says, gesturing to the cards spread in front of her, and the stools on your side of the table.
“You view the future?” I ask, easing onto the leftmost stool. “I’m assuming in vague bits and pieces that we’ll understand only too late.”
She shrugs again, unoffended, while Ismark and Ireena join me. “The images I see are often incomplete, but combined with wisdom and insight and…” she smirks “a little bit of luck, they can help you.”
I tilt my head toward her. “Well, I appreciate any help I can get.”
She gathers up the cards, shuffles them, and has me cut the deck before she begins to deal out an array. She lays five cards out, face down, then slowly turns each over and studies each one before speaking.
“These may tell you more of the things you seek, and whisper what the monster’s ultimate goal might be…”
[And thus a new Oracle enters the game – the famous/infamous fortune telling straight from Ravenloft – I6. Sorting this draw out took QUITE a while.]
She indicates the first card…
“This card represents an object of great power – a powerful force for good and protection against the forces of darkness. It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful; a place of wisdom, warmth, and despair. Great secrets are there.”
Ireena whispers “fathers holy symbol that was stolen.”
I nod. “That’s what I was thinking”
Madam Eva taps the next card.
“This card is good for you. It is a card of power and strength; the victor’s card. it tells of a weapon of light – a weapon with a vengeance. You may find this amid the ruins of a place of supplication and prayer.”
Istvarr: “Well… that sounds… Promising.” he winks.
I rock my head left to right. “I’m not getting my hopes up.”
Madam Eva taps the next card.
“This card speaks of history. Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand your foe.”
“This knowledge lies in the Monster’s mother’s place.”
Istvarr makes a face. “Probably that book the priest was yammering about.”
I nod. “Maybe.”
“I don’t fancy digging around his mother’s four-hundred year old unmentionables looking for it.”
Ireena rolls her eyes.
“This is the object of your search – the monster! Ah! I see darkness and evil behind this card! A powerful man whose enemy is light, and whose powers are beyond mortality.”
She closes her eyes, concentrating. “A king’s throne is the place to find him.”
“Subtle,” Ismark says.
“The cup indicates there is a very good influence there. If you are there, the powers of good will aid you.”
It does not surprise me to hear count Strahd would surround himself in the symbols of royalty. It does surprise me to hear some hint that he may be at a disadvantage in that place. [Making a note in case we face off in some kind of throne room.]
Eva’s eyes are still closed when she reaches out and touches this card. “And here is the root. The reason and foundation for darkness and chaos. This card shows the purpose of all things. It is the key to life and death and beyond.”
Her eyes open, wide. “The darkness loves a light and desires it.” She looks at Ireena, who pales. “Great plans are in motion about you; plans that the dead may find warmth from the living.”
“Like hell,” I mutter. I study the cards for a minute, then stand. “Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, but if you don’t mind, we’ll be on our way.”
“My people do not all feel as I do about the monster in that castle” Madam Eva says, as I step toward the door of wagon. She is not nearly as old as I’d first assumed. “Many simply ignore him. Some serve him. You may encounter them when you reach the castle, or even before; I cannot say.” Her jaw clenches, her dark eyes bright. “But know that some that oppose him, and I am one of them, and I hope this helps you as much as it can. You and your friends,” she says, looking mostly at Ireena.
The ghosts are gone well ahead by the time we return to the main road.
[And with that, I’m marking off milestones for a couple different vows related to Strahd. Lots of information – here’s hoping we recognize it when it’s useful.]
One of the things I find really cool about how Ironsworn is interacting with Ravenloft is the list of ‘stuff’ that this card reading lays out for me. In the original module (and in World of Dungeons), these are your basic magic weapons or holy symbols with bonuses to specific foes or turning undead or whatever. That’s fine. In Ironsworn, on the other hand, this event basically lays out a road map for acquiring stuff that will make beating Strahd achievable. I mean, I’ve set him and the related quest up as Epic, and without boring everyone I’ll say that a 1v1 versus an Epic foe is pretty much a self-inflicted death sentence.
However, it’s very straightforward in Ironsworn to say “this thing lowers the threat level of [particular thing or category of thing]”, so if you get [magic weapon] and [holy symbol] and [fight the guy in this one blessed location], you can, through significant prep work (all of which conveniently advances the quest itself), get the Big Boss Showdown to something manageable, which in every version of the game (DnD, WoD, Ironsworn, whatever) is the point of the stuff in the first place.
It’s just really… neat.
Last session, we talked with the village priest and buried the Burgomaster, which is about when we noticed the ghosts gathering at the graveyard gate, and I realized I knew one of them.
Specifically, it’s the spirit of Reinhardt, my old mentor.
I’m… guessing this next bit is going to suck a little bit.
Brigitte wants to approach Reinhardt.
Brigitte does NOT want to approach Reinhardt.
First thing I’m going to do is Face Danger. I think there’s a chance I just can’t bear to approach my old mentor.
But no! That’s interesting and unexpected. Not sure what opportunity to open up here, and the oracles aren’t particularly helpful this time.
Reinhardt turns as I approach, and his vacant, waiting expression vanishes, replaced with a broad, albeit a bit sad, smile. I can’t help but return that smile, as always, though my eyes are damp.
“Reinhardt. Uncle. What happened?”
I’m going to gather information. I’m not sure how much it can help. I don’t even know if the spirit can talk, but whatever.
Well, that’s pretty bad.
My godfather’s smile immediately falls away. It’s worse than before – he’s not just waiting, he’s vacant – his face is twisted in mourning as he remembers something no one should have to remember – the moment they fell.
I need to Pay the Price here, and I think Reinhardt’s spirit is in trouble here, because of what I asked him, so I’m going to Test our Bond, because things between us can go badly here.
(Well, worse. They’re already bad.)
Oh thank goodness.
“No, Uncle!” I reach out, unthinking, and my hand passes through his shoulder, but somehow it gets his attention. He turns back to me. He is still sad, but he is not lost, and his hand rises to his chest, to his armor, and he taps the space over his heart. Eyes streaming, I do the same, and feel renewed.
I’m taking +1 spirit from this exchange, because it feels good to have that recover as a result of this. I haven’t learned much, but the bond with my mentor/godfather is strong. I’m also going to let this be a milestone on my backstory vow to investigate/avenge the freewardens, which fully tics the first box on that track.
Okay, so obviously I’m following the ghosts up the road at midnight. Fantastic idea – I don’t know what could go wrong.
In the meantime, let’s wrap up that vow to bury the Burgomaster – I’ve got 9 progress, so it should be an easy way to get the last XP I need for a new Asset.
… well, son of a bitch.
“Oh no…” moans Ireena, looking over my shoulder as I return to them. “Oh, papa.”
I turn, following her gaze and see that the Burgomaster – silver-limned and sunken-eyed – also stands among the restless spirits waiting to walk to the castle.
“I will see his spirit at rest, Ireena,” I promise the woman. “I swear it. No matter what it takes.”
So I clear all but one progress and raise the quest to Dangerous. I’m also rewording it slightly.
That… kinda sucks. Not gonna lie. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but it sucks.
Okay, it’s moonrise, and hours until we depart. I don’t fancy hanging out in the church or the graveyard for the next four hours, so we’re going to do a bit of prep, and that means Sojourn.
Well, that should get me by. With my community bond, that’s two selections off the list. I’m definitely going to Provision to get my Supply back up, and I’m tempted by Plan, but I think instead I’m going to Provide Aid and make another vow.
In this case, I make my way back to Mad Mary’s, knock on the door and, when the sobbing subsides, somewhat, murmur my vow through the door.
This is pretty good, since the strong hit gives me +2 momentum (back up to +9 after burning it on the priest). Between that and the resupply, I’m basically maxed out on all my resources as we head out of town and toward Strahd’s castle.
What could go wrong?
The climbing moon and the glances of Ireena and Ismark eventually get me going despite my reluctance. It’s not fear of the castle that has me dragging my feet, but of what I might see among the ghosts – who I might see – more farwardens.
Sadly my fears prove justified, as I see the sad solemn face of my friend Liqa among the many waiting spirits within the graveyard, and sigils of several other farwardens amongst the lost souls. She does not raise her hand or acknowledge me, and when the ghosts begin to walk up the road leading to the castle; she simply joins them, her expression resigned and tired.
“Did you know them?” Ismark asks, his expression a mix of confusion and concern, watching both you and Ireena (whose eyes are on their father’s faded form).
“Yes,” I say. “Old friends of mine… or family, or both.” I clear my throat. “But now is not the time for mourning.”
“Do we follow them?”
“Closely.” I say. “They are no threat to us, and we might learn more of what happened to them.”
We follow the spirits (both watching and trying NOT to watch those we know) for a few miles, winding through sparser woods toward the base of the nearest mountain peaks. It is an eerie experience. The ghosts largely take no notice of us – most don’t even seem to see us – but their presence is unnerving, and I find myself touching iron often.
We come, somewhat abruptly, to a fork in the road.
Okay, we’re heading to the northwest part of the village, E5 and E6, the church and cemetery. Sounds peaceful.
Now, not to be too much of a gamer about it, but the thing is, I’m pretty sure the only way to get XP in the game is to make and complete Vows. “Free all of Barovia from Strahd” is epic and all, but it’s not going to be meat on the table any time soon, if ever. I need to keep doing small things – side quests, if you like.
So: a troublesome vow to bury the Burgomaster. On the one hand “har har, you have to carry him allll the way across town, what a big tough adventurer you are”, but on the other, the job is exactly as tough as I choose to make it – I can elide through pretty much everything else that happens in town and just get to the road up to the castle in about a paragraph, but I don’t learn or gain anything from that, so why not have some fun with this stuff?
Anyway, I swear the vow:
Which is good. My goal is clear. No complications like “we can’t bury him here – it’s not hallowed ground anymore!” or whatever. And hey: +2 momentum brings me to the max of 10, so wooot.
I see myself and Ismark walking slowly up the street toward the church, at either end of a bier. Ireena flanks us, pensive but resolved.
Since this is actually attached to a vow, I need to make some kind of progress here, and that means challenges. The first thing I imagine is the possibility of more interference from the village – either more superstitious, angry villagers (they wouldn’t help bury their Burgomaster in the first place, maybe they don’t want to see him buried at all, for fear it will make Strahd angry), maybe some vistani, or even something worse. We’ll see.
To reflect that, I’ll Face Danger (Ironsworn’s catch-all move for “I’m doing something generally risky for which there isn’t a better move) using Heart (loyalty, courage) as we carry the dead man through town in front of pretty much everyone.
I’m feeling pretty good about this – the challenge was strong, but I overcame. (I’ve been pondering moving Brigitte’s stats to the “challenging” stat array (4,3,3,2,2), as some folks have suggested, but so far this session the dice are making me feel silly for worrying about it.
I mark three boxes on the vow, but other than that, benefits to me are kind of slim, since I could get 1 more momentum, but I’m maxed out.
Atop a slight rise stands a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. This church has weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and is worn and weary. The bell tower hangs to one side, its strident call long silenced. Flickering light shines through holes burned through the roof shingles. The rafters strain to maintain their burden.
The church interior is a shambles, with overturned and broken benches littering the floor. At a claw-scarred altar toward the far end is the priest.
Donavich has apparently been praying and chanting throughout the night for weeks. He spends each night, every night, warding off evil from his church, and has fallen asleep against the altar.
So I need some information from this guy on several topics. I’m going to Gather Information (+1 for the community Bond) and play from there:
Oy. Okay, my dice are mayyyybe saying I should change my stat array. Whatever. I don’t want to snag the story at this point on this guy, so I’m going to burn my momentum to get a strong hit instead of a miss.
This works for me, since I imagine him not being too enthused about our plans – it takes a lot of energy to convince him to help us out at all and, thus, be involved. Cool.
When woken, introductions made (his voice is hoarse and weak), our intentions explained, and our will convincingly conveyed (until he finally stops trying to talk us out of “this madness”) he shares the following…
- There is a book in Castle Ravenloft’s library (“At least it was held there at one time…”) that might help destroy the devil Strand. It is well known from ancient times that Strahd kept meticulous notes on all that he did or said. “Perhaps some weakness of his may be found there.”
- The burgomaster’s holy symbol? Well, he certainly doesn’t have it, but he was shown it a number of times – a golden disk with a stylized Sun design. “An ancient thing, from distant lands – no one even knows how it came to be this far north.”
It’s possible the book of history he mentioned will explain such things – he seems a bit fixated on the idea of the thing.
Probably the thing he’s least enthused about, except for the “storm the monster’s castle” thing, is burying the Burgomaster while night is coming on. I’m going to try a fairly gentle compel, with Heart…
“The moon is rising soon!” he says.
“I’ve never minded the moon,” I reply.
He eyes the door leading to the churchyard, shaking his head fretfully, his hands trembling.
I lay a hand on his shoulder, relenting. “Don’t trouble yourself about this, Brother Donavich,” I murmur. “I know the words to say, well enough, and I’m sure Ireena and Ismark know the way to the family plot. Have you proper tools for the task? I’ve only a camp shovel…”
Maybe it’s the idea I’m letting him shirk his duty to the village. Maybe it’s asking for the tools. Maybe it’s just the pity in my eyes, but the firmness comes back into his eyes and jaw. “No. I mean, yes, they’re in the caretaker’s shed, but no… I’ll come with you. Let me get my things. Let it be done correctly and well and bravely, for a brave man.”
I’m going calling that another milestone on a troublesome vow.
Finally, and quite simply, I’m going to Face Danger (with “strength and endurance, so +iron) while digging the grave and putting the Burgomaster to rest. The day is passing, the moon is rising, and Things Might Happen, so let’s see how it goes.
Okay, a weak hit, “Face a troublesome cost.” Choose one.
- You are delayed, lose advantage, or face a new danger: Suffer -1 momentum.
- You are tired or hurt: Endure Harm (1 harm).
- You are dispirited or afraid: Endure Stress (1 stress).
- You sacrifice resources: Suffer -1 supply.
Fine. I’m going to go with Enduring Stress (-1). My following Endure Stress roll is another weak hit, which effectively does nothing. I “soldier on.” Here’s what happened to cause the stress:
As we conclude the burial ceremony, I see something terrible and unexpected. The moon has risen, and its light catches faint outlines of people — an assemblage fading in and out of view at the gates of the graveyard. They seem to be… Waiting. Either calmly, or resigned.
Donavich sees the direction of my stare, though he does not look himself. “They do this every night,” murmurs the priest. “Almost a hundred souls. They assemble, then, at midnight, walk the road that leads to the castle.”
“That is terrible,” I mumble.
But what is more terrible – I recognize one of them.