Brundle Swash looked confused; this was a common expression for the gnome. Kosef and Engong joined him; they looked confused too. As they stared, hypnotized by the strange sight of a band of brightly colored Vistani musicians dancing in circles, the music was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a wagon speeding down the stony path toward the camp. The wagon was lavishly decorated in blues and reds and golds. Sat at the front, beside the driver, was a curious old lady, half bent over, wearing a red shawl. She looked up, saw the three of them, and laughed loudly.
Last night was the 33rd session in our online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign; we started on time and had no significant interruptions. Sadly, our gnome druid, Brundle Swash, was unable to play and so he spent the entire time as a squirrel sleeping in my character’s pocket.
Episode 32 ended with us setting up a stealth mission to infiltrate a closed city full of guards. Our aim last night would be to rescue our one-time ally Ireena who was locked inside the Burgomaster’s mansion. This would be fine if it weren’t for our history of blundering and messing up our best laid plans. Not to mention my rogue character’s flaw: “If there’s a plan, I forget it. If I remember it, I’ll ignore it.”
But first, before the mission could begin, there was the small matter of having our fortunes told by the mysterious red-shawled Madam Eva.
Engong and Her Associates are:
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, leader, not a ‘people person’;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, has a mechanical arm and a pet dog called Kevon;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance;
Kosef – Human Rogue, impatient, played by me;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear, ABSENT;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
The wagon rumbled to a halt just a few feet away from the Vistani tent where the evening had gotten in full swing. None of the Vistani seemed to notice it, either that or they just didn’t care. As far as they were concerned this wasn’t important enough to interrupt the festivities.
The adventuring party slipped out of the tent unnoticed and watched as the wizened old lady stepped down from the wagon with a surprising amount of bounce in her step for someone who looked so frail. This was Madam Eva, and she had lots to tell them. But first, there was her own business to attend to.
She brushed past Engong and Her Associates, making a show of not greeting them. But as she passed Gimble Timbers she whispered, “Not all Vistani can be trusted. Treat Aragol with a pinch of salt.” It was now Gimble Timbers’ turn to look confused.
Arrows and electric squirrels
After this meeting with Madam Eva, we had to wait to be summoned back to her wagon for our readings. In the meantime, we returned to watching the Vistani revel and drink. Engong entertained them by showing off her monk skills. She challenged one man to shoot her with a bow. She was able to catch the arrow using her “deflect missile” ability, which drew great admiration from the bystanders.
As his player wasn’t available last night, it was decided that Brundle Swash had a bit too much to drink, turned into a squirrel, and then passed out. As a squirrel he could easily fit into my character Kosef’s pocket, continuing a tradition from an earlier session where a different character spent some time as a scorpion in the same place. An interesting feature of Brundle Swash as a squirrel was that, as he was still suffering from the aftereffects of being electrocuted the last time he was absent–he got struck by a warding spell that sent out bolts of lightning–all of his hair stood on end. This made him look more like a fluffy Pomeranian than a squirrel.
Readings and portents
Eventually it was time for us to join Madam Eva in her tent. She had already given some of the party readings, but our DM saw this as a good opportunity to remind us of them, and even give us a few more hints. We didn’t mind, especially seeing as the voice acting for Madam Eva is some of his most entertaining. The reading consisted of five Tarroka cards, each on a specific aim in the campaign. Madam Eva’s readings were:
Card 1: The History card that reveals knowledge of the Ancients: The Faceless God, “What you seek is at the end of a long winding road, deep in the mountains.”
Card 2: A powerful force of good and protection: The Priest, “What you seek will be found amid the ruins of a place of supplication.”
Card 3: A weapon of vengeance: The Enchantress, “The sword of sunlight can be found in the marshes. Seek out the Burgomaster, even in death he will aid you.”
Card 4: An ally who will help greatly in the battle against darkness: The DonJon, “A young man surrounded by wealth and madness. He will be an ally if freed.”
Card 5: Where the last battle will take place: “Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose power is beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him. The Dark Lord, he lurks in the depths of darkness, in the pace he must return to. Look for the sign of the Morning Lord, which will lead you to him.”
So, having had our readings confirmed we tried to work out what they could mean. We knew that card four referred to Victor, and was the only reason we were putting up with the annoying teenage wizard. We assumed that the marshes referred to by card three were the Ruins of Berez, but after our last encounter there with Baba Lysaga, we were in no hurry to go back–even to get a cool magic sword. But the other three cards were still a mystery. Madam Eva could tell us no more and so suggested we seek out Riktavio who could help us decipher them.
Finally, just as we were leaving, Madam Eva motioned for Kosef to stay. “I see a curse upon you. You have angered the Vistani.” She raised her hands above my head and swirled them in invisible circles. “This will not do. You must be my agent in this land. You must free Strahd from his torment. This land is his prison. He made a dark pact, slew his brother and his brother’s bride. Now he seeks to marry. This cannot happen. Where is the young woman your friends came here with last? Ireena. I sensed either horror or joy in her future, but now I see nothing. She is hidden from me. Find her. Save her.”
Planning a heist
Leaving Madam Eva’s wagon we knew we had some goals to complete. But after ten minutes we couldn’t decide what the most important task was, so we decided to shelve that conversation and discuss a more pressing issue: We needed to free Ireena.
We hadn’t seen Ireena since we fought Strahd in session 13. Back then we left her in the care of Lady Wachta, before we realized the soon-to-be-Burgomaster was probably evil. In the time that has passed since, we have twice tried to see Ireena but have been denied each time. We knew that eventually we would have to come to her aid, and now we had both reason to do so from Madam Eva, and the means by which to do it. Last session we bribed Oleg the guard and he promised to let us back into the town without our masked guard contingent, so all we needed was a plan.
Planning things in D&D always presents an odd paradox. Whether it’s a bank robbery, a jail break, or a military strike. You know you need to have a plan; you also know it never goes the way you want. No matter how much time you spend planning, or how intricately you design your scheme, the DM always has an extra ace up his sleeve, or four. But, nevertheless, we still spent the next twenty minutes preparing our mission.
We would gain access to Vallaki thanks to our friend Oleg on the gate. Then we would change into the masks and robes that Blinksy gave us last session; we had studied the guards and knew they traveled silently and slowly around the town. We would head to the far side of the town, where the stables were, and prepare some horses for an escape. Once our exit was sorted out we would make our way back to Lady Wachta’s mansion, gain access, and once inside quickly find Ireena, get her out and escape. Easy.
A plan comes together
Just as we had completed our plan and all agreed on it, Victor, who had been very quiet, piped up. He had an alternate way into the town which involved a teleportation circle he had created. We were very dubious. So far Victor’s teleportation spells haven’t worked out very well, but Gimble Timbers still volunteered to test it. It didn’t work. Thankfully our gnome fighter wasn’t disintegrated or turned into a cloud of butterflies. So we headed towards the gates of Vallaki ready to enact our plan.
The sun was setting once Engong and Her Associates gained entry to the town. They changed into their robes in an alleyway away from prying eyes. Gimble Timbers was worried that his small stature would stand him apart from the town guards, so he took a swig of an enlargement potion and his body doubled in all proportions. Brundle Swash continued sleeping in Kosef’s pocket, so he wouldn’t be cause for concern.
The new faux-guards made their way across town towards the stables, occasionally passing another group of guards in masks. They kept silent and walked straight by and this didn’t appear to raise any eyebrows. Ten minutes in and they were getting close to the stables when a single masked guard began approaching them animatedly. He yelled out, “Oi! Where are you going? This isn’t your patrol.” The party stayed silent. “OK, come with me, you stupid things.” He walked off and signaled the party to follow. Baräsh began to get worried, this wasn’t the plan.
In an act of desperation, the dragonborn paladin dived towards the guard and began throttling him. “Take him out,” hissed Engong, and Kosef killed the guard. But not before he let out an alarm that echoed around the town. The party was deafened with the sense of inevitability. Within seconds, six more masked guards charged down into the alleyway, followed by a seventh, larger guard. For a second the two groups stared silently at one another. Then the burly seventh guard asked, “Where did they go?” Engong pointed towards the stables, “They went that way.” “Imposters!” yelled the guard. “Get them!” The six guards threw off their masks, revealing six smooth skeletal heads. Their jaws were open. They raised their scimitars and charged at the party. END
Great! That was not how we planned the heist to go. Although it is good to know that the guards are skeletons and not vampires as we initially thought. Overall, we spent 25-30 minutes concocting a detailed plan, only for Victor to then suggest a different one. Thank god it didn’t work, or that would have been half an hour wasted.
During this session, Madam Eva lifted the curse on my character Kosef; I think the DM was feeling guilty. More fool him. But the removal of the curse really came in handy for the stealth mission, and I’m guessing that next week we’re going to need to be even stealthier. That is, if we can defeat the six skeletons and masked guard without alerting the rest of the town.