Curse of Strahd #1 - Enter, our Heroes!

A little backstory before I get into this... 

As I mentioned last week, I had never really intended to play Curse of Strahd so soon after Ameshirel: A World Undone, but found myself in a state of 'No Campaign Madness'. I collected a good group of friends, we made adventurers, and set off into the lands of Barovia. 

This is their story.

Note: If you're intending to play in Curse of Strahd you shouldn't read this series. Whilst I've changed a great many things, and tweaked it like any GM will, this write-up will still give away many many spoilers for those wishing to play the game.
I had to get into a Strahdy mood. It may have gone too far...
The party consists of four adventurers, all from the Forgotten Realms:
  • "Rowena" (formerly Jane Hull), a Human Paladin of Sharess – the Goddess of Seduction and Life's Pleasures. She's a vain, jealous person, who wants to evoke beauty and joy in the world... So long as it includes, and is somewhat focused on, her. Played by Alex.

  • Asimi Naftikos, a Human Rogue and former Ship's Girl, turned Mutineer, turned High Seas Pirate, turned Treasure Seeker. She's a greedy, treasure loving adventurer, through and through, who wants to seize enough riches to purchase her own ship. But she has a heart of... perhaps not gold, but something shiny. Her pirating ways are dominated by a desire to stand up for the rights of exploited sailors working under terrible captains and overly affluent merchants. Played by Amelia.

  • Battle Sister Mizhena, Stalwart of Tempus, a Human Cleric of Tempus, the Foehammer. She's proud and boastful, and quick to action. As the good Lord Tempus demands, she's fair in a fight, eager for adventure, with a lusty desire for glorious battle! Played by Danny.

  • Arkaeous, a Tiefling Warlock, addicted entirely to the magic gifted him by his patron – a terrible Pact Devil, beholden to the Demon Queen of Spiders Lolth! In his heart, he yearns for atonement for terrible sins he has committed in the lust after his magic, but yet he is unwilling to give up the baleful energy coursing through his body. Played by Sam.
Danny knows of the Forgotten Realms. Mention of Strahd and Lolth does not a confident Danny make!
Our adventure began in a nameless hamlet on the edge of civilisation, far to the north of the Dalelands. Here, our adventurers had been called by a friend of a friend, to come to the aid of Father Rennic – the local priest – to aid in matters of the undead.

Though at first they feared a necromancer, or other such evil, the adventurers were only able to find five lonely zombies in the woods. Dispatching them easily, and after weeks of searching, they concluded with the Father that their job there was done. Still, the mysterious, and thoroughly dated, ruffed clothing they wore, and the lack of evidence from where they came, continued to confuse everyone in the sleepy little hamlet.

On the night before they were to leave, there was a cry from the edge of the woods. Fearing another zombie, the villagers called on the heroes to investigate. They discovered it was no zombie, but a man named Arrigal, wounded and dressed in similar clothing to the zombies. The heroes questioned him, but he knew nothing of the undead, and had his own problems which needed their urgent attention.
(Image from Wizards.)
Arrigal told the story of his people - the travelling Vistani – who were beset by a pack of three werewolves. They had been attacked, but Arrigal lured the werewolves away. His Baba – priestess of their people – put a spell over their caravan which meant that until morning no outside eyes could see them.

Arrigal pleaded with the party to hunt down the werewolves before dawn, whilst he sought out his caravan. The party – foremost Rowena – distrusted Arrigal, and wanted to either go with him to his people, or to await the morning. Arrigal, however, was sly, and produced reason after reason to lure them into the woods. Unable to confirm their suspicions about Arrigal - and unwilling to let innocents be slaughtered, they set off... Not without first extracting promise of payment in treasure from Arrigal.

"How about this? I am a famous juggler among my people. I propose a wager  we Vistani have much treasure, and I shall juggle it all when next we meet. Any treasure that I drop, is yours to keep!"

With that, Arrigal disappeared into the woods, and the party set off in the direction he told them.

After many hours of walking, they became enshrouded in mists, first ankle, then knee high. Arkaeous determined that the mists were supernatural, and that they were growing behind them, preventing them from turning back. The party was now certain that they had been betrayed, and that they had been spirited away into a land unlike their own.
(Image from Dragon+.)
The howls of wolves began to punctuate the air, giving credence to at least part of Arrigal's lies. There were werewolves in these woods – at that revelation, a form moved through the trees and dashed out onto the road. Before they could see it clearly, it was gone - dissipated into the mist.

The party made their way to a great gatehouse, crossing a path that had formed in the woods. Wrought of black stone and cold iron bars, they journeyed through the gatehouse, into the other side. Arrigal sprang from the other side of the gatehouse, and locked the gates before they could move. They had fallen into his trap! All of a sudden, the great walls of the gate were gone – crumbled to nothing. The structure seemed to blink forward in time thousands of years in desolation. Arrigal himself, gone completely...

But they were not alone. 

On the road ahead of them, a great snarling sounded and they spun to confront a werewolf. Rushing into the fray, Rowena set up a strong position between the beast and her companions. Asimi was about to loose an arrow towards it when another werewolf launched from the forest and began to gore Rowena.
Pardon the orc and gnoll - we proxy a lot of our minis!
Finally, another huge werewolf (in wolf form) padded onto the road, but didn't engage – merely watching as its other pack mates fought. After several rounds of combat, the werewolf that had gored Rowena broke and fled – fearing the divine might of Mizhena. The fleeing werewolf called out to the other that was still engaged with the party, calling it "Emil" and begging it to flee as well.

The third, larger werewolf sprung on this opportunity, and dragged the fleeing werewolf away, preventing it from hesitating and getting back to Emil as he was cut down. The screaming werewolf transformed back into a human, a woman, and fought the large wolf dragging her away – confusing and building mystery for our heroes... Which was somewhat resolved when, picking over the corpse of Emil, they discovered a wedding ring with the name Zuleika etched into the band. With a dead werewolf on the road, and two very living werewolves somewhere ahead of them, the party didn't have time to rest. 

The momentary peace was punctured when Asimi stumbled upon a skeletal rider atop a skeletal horse, fully animated, watching them from the woods off the road. The rider looked to have once been a knight, given its torn and destroyed clothing, and the barding on its horse.
(Image from Tribality.)
The rider, unable to speak without lungs or a tongue, clacked and attempted to communicate with the party – Rowena in particular. It made the motion of a shield, and pointed at Rowena. It pointed west along the road, then back east the way they'd come through the mists. It shook its head in warning. Then it turned and rode slowly back through the trees.

Mystified by this encounter, the party pressed on – believing that Arkaeous's suspicion was correct. They could not leave this realm until they performed some deed to reverse the spell: started in the woods, and ended with the locking of the gatehouse. 

They made their way to a large grassy plain beyond the woods, but still upon the road. A few more hours, and they saw the gloomy shapes of a settlement in this forsaken land. Bunching up tight, they stepped into the shadow of the buildings, and noticed no one was around – even though it was early, perhaps 6'o'clock in the morning. They expected someone at least to be out. Worse still, Rowena was able to sense the presence of undead within some of the buildings...

Then, a cry. A young girl, dressed in rather fine yet strange attire, ran from her house to the heroes. She held the hand of her younger brother, and they both looked frightened and concerned.

"Help! Our parents are not at home, and there's a monster in our house!"

The party looked towards the daunting yet proud townhouse, with its swinging open iron gate, and felt dread for their adventures to come...
(Image from Wizards.)
And that concludes the first session of our Curse of Strahd campaign! I hope you enjoyed it, and that you come back next time for more.