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.