Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Actual Play 1

First session tonight. A few kinks, as expected, but we made decent progress. I was really hoping to get through the village of Barovia, card reading at the Tser Pool encampment, and find one of the treasures. Well, since the treasures are random they didn't have a chance to do that part, but they got to Vallaki in 5 hours!

First up, obviously we spent the expected 45 min or so going over some character details and a few expectations for the adventure. I've got a noble wild sorcerer, mercenary swashbuckler, outlander vengeance paladin, entertainer lore bard, and acolyte blood hunter. Had them roll for trinkets and on the harrowing event table from the Haunted One background since no one opted for that background. Had hoped they would work out some things like party alignment and goals and such beforehand, but at least we kept the intro stuff to 45 min. Then the book started in full.

I opted for the werewolf hook, since Bryce suggested it was the only good one and I kinda agree. I might have considered running Death House but we only have 5 weeks, maybe a 6th if we all have time to squeeze an extra session in. So the group came into Ravenloft. First random encounter was wolves (I had them howl in the distance) then a hidden bundle (commoner's clothes). After the creepy gates of Barovia, they found the dead body and its note, then waited as the dire wolves came in. The swashbuckler got mauled and they took one down. A low moral check meant the other wolves would back away if the PCs let them. Reason prevailed and the 4 remaining dire wolves left them alone. An aside: the 90s-style cursive note was almost impossible for everyone to read. I'll have to type all the handouts and print them in a more normal font, I think. Another place where the usability of the book fails.

In Barovia they first encountered Mad Mary, then went to the Blood on the Vine tavern. They talked to Ismark, agreed to take his sister to safety, dealt with father Donovich and Doru, then gathered Ireena up after the funeral was finished. Oh, and they spotted Morgantha selling pies but didn't get the full encounter. The religion of Ravenloft isn't detailed enough to withstand player questioning, but luckily the paladin is devoted to Lathander who is apparently the same as the Morninglord.

From Barovia they stopped at the Tser Pool encampment where I learned that there are fewer suggestions for the reading than I had expected. As in, they asked Madam Eva to explain the reading to them. Two of the treasures are in Castle Ravenloft itself, and I'm not sure how to telegraph this to the players. I suspect a meeting with Rictavio or Esmerelda can be used to help there, or even the Keepers of the Feather or Baba Lysaga maybe. I'm trying to get the players to ask around town for rumors and info, but they haven't quite caught on yet that they could ask for key terms, though they've started asking a lot about tombs and graveyards because one of the treasures is in the guildmaster's crypt.

After Tser pool they found the black carriage with an invitation to the castle in it. I wanted them to know Strahd was around, but they didn't take the bait to bring Ireena and Ismark with them to Castle Ravenloft itself. So they unhitch the carriage, take it, and go through the gates of Barovia again and pass Old Bonegrinder. A bit of temptation to stop there, but they press on. One more random encounter on the road is a lone werewolf in human form. He sees their numbers and has no inclination for combat, but does tell them that the old woman selling pastries lives there. I'm cutting down on some of the encounters that could happen, so they make it to Vallaki with no further problems.

In Vallaki they head to the inn. The blood hunter goes around town getting the lay of the land, the paladin talks to the wolf hunters in the Blue Water tavern, and everyone is creeped out that the standard greeting in Vallaki is "I'm happy that you're happy!". They get a few rumors from the inn, but don't press it to get a lot. They spend the night, and stop at the church the next morning to see if they can swindle some holy water out of the church if they need it. A good persuasion roll and seeing the symbol of the morninglord on the foreign paladin's shield gets Father Lucian to fess up that they can't make any until the bones of St. Andral are returned. This sends me into a bit of a panic as I see he told the boy Yeska about them, and Yeska told someone else, but I was expecting more than that when they asked who Yeska was. The naming in the adventure is odd, as there's not a way to distinguish between big-names and small names. And I searched an index and find he's only described on page 97, the one I had been looking at. So, at this point I'm a bit flustered but we've made good progress and its 10:30pm, so I figure we can stop there.

Five hours and 30 minutes, being a bit speedy and taking 45 of that for character stuff and we're in Vallaki at least. I could have slowed things down with a couple more random encounters, but I didn't think that'd be needed. I know to prep Krezk, the Wizard of Wines and Yester Hill for sure, plus probably the rest of Vallaki. Not too bad, and if I just end up giving the PCs a level per session then they'll be 8 by the end of days, 9 if we do one extra. I might just cram most of this in. Well, still trying to skip the mad mage, van richten's tower, Argynvostholt, Tsolenka Pass and the Amber temple at least. But we'll see. They've even figured out the identity of their greatest ally, and if I can make it clear that two treasures are in the castle, we'll just spend more time in the castle after they get one from Yester Hill and gather their ally from the village of Barovia.

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