The Abyss Stares Back

Two Stones, Two Crates

We make ready to return to the town of Lowenturm to find the perpetrator of this foul deed, but first we decide to do some marketing with Luke. Being a werewolf (or related creature), it seems like he shouldn’t like the vampires, but he’s kind of ambivalent about the whole deal. We give him our business cards and play our theme songs, and then move on, leaving him with the name of the synod and an opportunity to contact us in the future.

On the road back to town, we pass a bush that snarls at us hungrily, and then a pack of spectral wolves bursts out and starts chasing us. We flee down the path to a bridge crossing over a narrow river before they catch up to us. Fight!

The wolves prove little challenge to us, and after they are dispatched I follow their magical trail back through the woods. In a pile of leaves near where they burst out of, we find a pair of bodies – the guards from the caravan. There are signs that the cause of death was electrocution, which explains the scorch marks in the camp attack. Having nothing else to gain from here, we move in to the town.

The hospitality stand in the town is empty at the moment, so we move directly to the tower at the center of town, which also happens to be their city hall. We accost the clerk at the front desk and convince him to fetch the mayor for us. She is not compact, not does she have long dark hair, so she can’t be the culprit. However, during the course of the discussion, the clerk does spill the beans about a potion merchant named Tatiana that matches the description. We threaten them, in series, with the possibility that we are part of the iron rook or that we kill members of the iron rook, and they agree to stay in the tower for now so that they don’t interfere with our plans.

We go to the market and find the potion merchant. She matches the description that we were given, so we talk to her. She seems innocent enough, and her selection of potions is unimpressive, not seeming to be the kind of thing we would expect a decent wizard to be selling. There is a creepy dumb guy watching her closely that she introduces as Gurt, the slow guy who carries her stuff. It turns out that she is half Vistani, and a conversation with Milosh reveals that she harbors some bitterness towards them over them kicking out her and her mother. Mads makes a contribution by picking her pocket and retrieves a small object, although he doesn’t get a chance to look at it yet.

At one point, Gurt is sent off to her room in the Lions Mane Inn to fetch her shawl and I follow, giving him some relationship advice when he emerges from the room. I then go in myself to look around, finding a small lightning rod, such that a wizard might use in casting a lightning bolt, as well as an iron rook badge. Oh no! After I leave the inn, I end up being tailed by another agent who I confront. They are here on behalf of Onyx, who is presumably a lieutenant in the iron rooks. I convince him that I am here with another lieutenant (Obsidian) and that I need his help in killing Milosh. We agree to meet south of town to kill them (us) at their (our) camp.

Tatiana finally closes up shop and goes off to do some chores with Gurt, and Mads and Milosh go back to the inn to rest. I leave a pie containing a message about the attack on their table, which Mads eventually eats. They head South to set up an ambush spot, while I join my new frenemies.

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Cool Paws Luke

During the night, we have our own sleepy time hijinks. Milosh dreams of the matriarch of the Vistani camp that we had gone to earlier (by the name of Rouney Marya). She tells him that he must bring down the devil by lying with the demon, and then a dark shadow rises up behind her, and he wakes up horrified.

I wake up with Johanna looking at herself in the mirror and she’s actually looks genuinely happy. She expresses that she is glad that she doesn’t have to go it alone anymore. Then we go at it together.

Mads wakes up on a rooftop, even though he had passed out in the alley where Sebastian fed on him. He had a nice note from Sebastian clutched in his whatever that thanks him for being a friend, expresses distrust for Urban, and says not to tell anyone about him trying to eat someone and for the people he will eat in the future. Made scratches out that part and leaves all the nice things about himself, then steals breakfast from a wealthy house.

We return to the university to be on our way. Johanna gives us the opportunity to rebrand ourselves, but we’re pretty happy with our names. Milosh does become the Champion rather than the bodyguard, since our bodies do a good job of guarding themselves. She tells us that her people are aware of a skirmish in the Forlornwald that surely must have been perpetrated by Strahd’s people, if not Strahd himself. And then she creates a portal to take us there. Milosh takes his armor off in case she has enchanted it to deceive us, but it all appears to be real.

Mads ascends into the trees to look around and sees the town of Lowenturm in the distance. We head there, in the hope that someone there has heard of an attack on the Vistani in the area. The hospitality coordinator of the town gets us and wants to give us a tour, but we refuse. She does tell us that a caravan came through here a few days ago and departed to the south, which would seem to be the one that we’re looking for. After helping her with the tourism slogans of the town, we leave to follow the caravan.

The trail of the wagons splits off of the main trail towards an ambush location and we follow. A clearing up ahead has 3 wagons that have been attacked, with the people murdered and bloody (about a dozen overall). We go to work.

It appears that this is the same caravan that passed through the town, as it bears the name of the magician guy that the hospitality lady from the town described. A quick autopsy shows that the people here died of blood loss from what appears to be a mammalian attacker with dark hair, but there was no obvious sign of feeding. Tracks in the area look canine, but they do not appear to have left the area. We decide that werewolves are the culprits, but it is not obvious where they have gone since the tracks do not exit the campsite.

There are a few areas that are burnt as if by fire, and I determine that there are two distinct types of marks, one of which appears to be from a summoning spell and the other which appears to be from a stroke of lightning or another kind of electricity. None of the Vistani here appear to be able to cast spells, nor do any of the bodies have marks of electricity in them, so there isn’t an obvious explanation.

At that moment, Milosh hears the sound of a Vistani dirge coming from the woods somewhere to the north. Fortunately, he is a master at the concertina, and he joins in with harmony to try to me the player into the clearing. And he succeeds! The player is a man, or appears to be at least, but instead he admits to being a wolfwere. He says that he knows who did this evil deed, but he won’t tell us unless we evict some people from his forest. Sounds good to us.

The people to be evicted turn out to be a family from another world who are disturbingly innocent. They recently arrived here through the mists and have set up a logging and fur trapping operation and just want to be left alone. After a good amount of convincing and a fair amount of vague threats, we get the family to agree to move to the outskirts of Lowenturm. We also eat some delicious biscuits. Finally, they are out and we return to Luke.

He tells us that it was a woman who committed these murders, and was capable of summoning spectral wolves to kill the Vistani. She is described as having long dark hair and being small and compact, with an herbal smell about her. She departed to the north, returning to the town where I can only guess she is the mayor. Her goal appears to have been to not only kill the gypsies, but also to frame the wolfweres for the job. We tell Luke that it was probably vampires, since they don’t really get along. And then we head off to the town to find the culprit.

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The Thank You Tour

The session starts with Mads and I talking to Sebastian and trying to gently tell him that we are now working directly with the scholar. As expected, he doesn’t like the idea of not killing the people who tortured him, but Mads and I convince him to stay his hand (partly because I use an icon roll to corrupt his soul just enough to help him accept his new dark position). We return to Johanna.

We talk for a little while about what we are expected to do and why Strahd might be willing to act against the Vistani now. Maybe it has something to do with the sight – perhaps he wants to either gain control over it or fears that it might be used against him.

Before we strike out to a Vistani camp to investigate what is going on, Johanna asks us to join her on a trip to one of her people’s camp to have a press conference to introduce ourselves as the synod, and we agree to do so, under the assumption that we will then be recognized by her troops and this able to command them.

She offers us presents as well, and after we are teleported to the camp we end up in a room with 4 armoires, each inscribed with one of our names on it. Inside each of them is a suit of armor for one of us, personalized and bearing the insignia of the Scholar, or the synod, or whatever it is (a dagger with a quill crossing it). They are totally badass and Mads just about passes out with greed over his new leather armor. We take our items and put them to good use.

We join Johanna in front of a large gathering of her people and she gives a speech about how we are great and that we are totally on board with the Awakened. Milosh tests out his newfound power by convincing the mob that one of the men in their midst is a traitor and must be killed. They do so, and it’s a combination of impressive and horrifying.

We return to Barovia to rest and recuperate, and also to level up! Hooray for level 4!

We have a few solo adventures. I end up joining Johanna in her quarters for a late night study session. Mads, while looking for a place to sleep at night, stumbles in on Sebastian hunting a man for a meal. Mads doesn’t approve, so he knocks the terrified man unconscious and offers up his own blood to slake our vampire’s thirst. During the process, Mads calls on the power of the prince of Shadows to steal away Sebastian’s thirst temporarily.

The next day, we will get sent to the Vistani camp to move this shit forward.

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Deal with the Devil

We take the surviving cultist out of the mausoleum to one of the inns in the town of Teufeldorf where we question him. Amongst bowls of soup and trenchers of bread, all of us attempt to put the ex-cultist at ease and get some information out of him. He is loathe to believe us, understandably, at least partly because we are so incredibly weird. We freely admit to him that we are the Synod, since it has become apparent that we are, but try to put him at ease with the claim that we didn’t really know who were were murdering or why.

He (and he can’t remember his name here) doesn’t remember much about recent times. He thinks that he is from Zeidenberg, and that he and his sister were converted there. They were poor and needed jobs and or money, giving us the impression that the cult preys on such individuals. He can’t believe that we are planning on killing the scholar. Because we totally are. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know why he and his two friends were able to shake off the control of the awakened, but I take some blood samples and give him a medical examination to analyze later. They might be useful in figuring out how to free other awakened.

In the morning, we take him to the temple of Lathander to hopefully recover, or at least get someone else watching him since he is worried that he will revert. Talking to Sasha, we find out that the asylum had been successfully emptied and that we can burn it down. Or we could, if we wanted to take some time to do so now. But we don’t. We head straight to Barovia to confront Johanna and end this.

When we get there and find her (and Sebastian, dutifully watching her) in the university, she seems to be upset, with a brandy snifter on her liquor cart smashed. It’s probably out of anger for all the headaches we’ve been causing her, combined with the fact that we just turned her most recent boyfriend into ashes. But there’s a simple solution for that, so after our initial greetings I stay with her and Mads and Milosh go into the back room to find whatsername. She’s there, but she’s acting as if she has been lobotomized or something (which is probably accurate, even if it’s not in a physical sense). Milosh, after trying to convince her that her home and duty is in Point Hope without any luck, resorts to putting a Vistani curse of pain on her instead, and she and her artificially cheerful personality stumble out of the room in agony and lurch towards the door.

We send Sebastian off after the unnamed lady, and the rest of us stay to confront Johanna. I blow our original plan of murdering her before she realizes that we now know what we know now by telling her that we know what we know, and that we know that she knew all along that we didn’t know what she knew or what she was. She takes the new knowledge in stride, although she is disappointed that we didn’t kill the escaped Awakened faster (we do tell her that they are dead, which should spare the remaining man in Teufeldorf, unless he turns back and Sasha or Digweed kill him). I drop what would have seemed to be a bomb, that I am willing to work with Johanna against Strahd, since the two groups are in direct conflict. And the Milosh drops another bomb by entertaining the idea! And then he scolds her for sending a note to the cultists, because seriously we would never have figured it out if it wasn’t for that note.

We chat. Or maybe negotiate, not sure if it counts. Milosh demands that Johanna change her nasty ways and stop turning people into acid demons, which she halfheartedly agrees to after telling us to “find a better way” (I am unconvinced that a bunch of peasants with pitchforks can harm an army of vampires in any meaningful way, so maybe the acid possession is better). She also tells us that she knows that Strahd has some kind of nefarious intentions for the Vistani, whom he has “tolerated” thus far. She doesn’t share anything yet, since we have yet to prove any kind of not-stabbing-her-in-the-back loyalty. We discuss how we might be willing to work together on common non-evil goals, like driving back the Ravagers, helping the Vistani and weakening Strahd’s control over the world.

Mads, unlike Urban and Milosh, is still unconvinced that any good can come of this new deal, although maybe the realization that most of the people in Barovia aren’t real people at all – only soulless shells – might change his mind. Mads and Urban go off to break (or conceal) the news from Sebastian, who is waiting to escort somebody to Point Hope, and who will certainly not object to working with the people who transformed him into a blood-sucking monster rather than getting his violent revenge on them.

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The Curtain, Pulled Back

We clean up after ourselves at the end of the fight. I go around the town, hunting down the rest of the woven and releasing then from their servitude. Milosh descends into the basement and destroys all of the evidence they’re storing down there, like the jars of fluids and the torture implements. Mads destroys Blackburn’s body very carefully, out back where none of the townsfolk can see. He retrieves a note from the body saying that someone was reporting all of this to Strahd. And an iron rook symbol.

Mads wants to retrieve Sebastian immediately, but we decide to wait until the next morning. After a long argument, of course. And then we go to the farm. The farmers are OK, and Sebastian is still in the basement in the position that we left him in.

Mads pulls the stake and Sebastian comes back to unlife, grabbing Mads around the neck and growling. A chicken shake takes the worst of the edge off, and then we chat and apologize.

It gets a little weird. Sebastian feels really bad about what he is, and Mads essentially wants to treat him as a pet. We tell him that we are going to Point Hope to rebuild and that he can join us there. And he takes a long drink from our elf so that he doesn’t murder the farmers upstairs.

Incidental vision: Man with a scar across his face is terrified and doesn’t want to fight. Not what he appears to be, but is desperate and knows too much.

We leave the farmhouse, after warning the farmers to head to Kreszk before Sebastian can come upstairs. Along the road, Mars and Milosh see signs of the ambush where the captain was taken. There is a separate trail leading out of the ambush that looks to have been made by a few men escaping the attack. We follow.

We eventually come to a small camp populated by cowardly recruits and wounded men. We recruit them for the return to Point Hope, doing what we can for the wounded in the process.

Onward to point hope! It’s destroyed, looted and empty, which hits Milosh hard. The fortress needs a lot of repair to make it livable again, and we start to plan for its reconstruction.

But then we get a phone call from Johanna! She is under continued attack from shadow assassins sent by the Awakened, and they have redoubled their efforts against her since she’s been helping us. She asks us to go to Teufeldorf, where she’s tracked down the source of the creatures. Since we are busy at Point Hope, we send Sebastian to her to serve as temporary protection while we finish boosting the defenses of Point Hope and then go to Teufeldorf.

So we do that. Upon arriving at the city, we go to the location described, which is a graveyard behind the temple. What terrible clerics. Then we break into one of the mausoleums that seems to be occupied and fight the cultists that we conveniently find there. One of them has a scar over his eye, like Sebastian described, and we decide to keep him alive, since he knows too much. Unlike his two unfortunate companions…

There is a note in the tomb that totally throws us, saying that the men here know that the scholar is going to send the Synod to attack them. And we were just sent by… Johanna… who is being watched by Sebastian…

Crap.

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The Six-Million Goldpiece Man

We step over the dead specialist and enter the room that Mads slammed shut behind her. Inside is another laboratory, this one containing two cots (presumably for the assistants), a journal, and a number of medicinal sample jars. The jars are labeled with our names, and although the fluids in the jars designated for us are limited (some blood and hair), there are also jars for Sebastian with a more extensive (and intimate) collection.

The journal details the last few weeks of the specialists work, including her departure from the asylum, intensive torture sessions and Sebastian’s conversion into a vampire. It turns out that the Vistani matron was right – his visions eventually did kill him, despite our efforts to blacken his soul into compatibility with Ravenloft. Near the end, she expresses her disbelief in us as the Synod. She doesn’t get a chance to talk about how we murdered her. Oh well. She does mention some damning statements about Sebastian, like how she sent him out to find us and maybe lure us into the mayor’s house, which he did. He didn’t tell us about that…

We do a bit more bookkeeping. Mads puts an additional entry in her journal saying that she is going to go out and look for Sebastian to throw anyone reading the book off her real location, which is dead in the next room.

In the next room over we find a few more items of interest. One is a summoning portal through which, we believe, the woven are being brought. Disrupting it will prevent any more from being imported, as well as cut the present ones off from their source, which I have just decided is important. We also find a recently-dug grave that we believe was used to store Sebastian during his vampiric fermentation.

Before we leave, I convince Mads to let me dissect the remaining road warden, and I am confident that, with the knowledge gleaned from the procedure, I will be able to remove the remaining Woven without killing the rest of the villagers.

And then it is off to the evening! And the inevitable fight. We return at the appointed hour to meet with Cassimere, and he is very excited to get started! But then we get to participate in a Truxican standoff, with both Casimere and Blackburn waiting for the other to attack. So we take the initiative and trick the vampires into starting the assault.

And then we fight! The two leaders take on each other in a sea of chomping minions while we take on the mid-level. And we kill the fuck out of them, like we do. Finally, the Favorite gets the better of Blackburn, throwing him down off of the balcony and threatening to kill him if we don’t give up. But that plays right into our plans, and Milosh charges forward, thrusts a stake into Blackburn’s chest and chortles in glee. And then Casimere, desperate to avoid a kill steal, tears out Blackburn’s throat.

The whole distraction is enough to get Mads into position behind him, and we continue the fight. A few devastating hits later, and the Favorite is down, but we are not quick enough to stake him before he turns to mist and flows upstairs. We follow, fighting or way through the house for the right to stake him first. Finally, we kick out way into his bedroom and three-way impale him, ending his unholy existence.

The townspeople, after seeing us defeat everyone important, finally rise up against the cultists. As they say, better late than never…

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An Inconvenient Truth

The battle starts with two half – transformed man monsters charging across the chamber at us. Abalescu is in the lead, with another roadwarden right behind. Fight!

We are victorious! We knock Abalescu unconscious with the sedative from the torture room, kill his lieutenant, and have to deal with a few of the now-awakened man-things from the gurneys. After the fight, I take one of the dead gurneymen into the operating room to see how the creature attached to their necks is controlling them, and Milosh puts Abalescu into one of the empty cells to deal with him later.

Detail: each of the villagers had a creature attached to their faces (like a face-hugger) that has a tentacle shoved down their throat. Their eyes are white and devoid of thought. This explains why the villages working on the wall outside are wearing scarves.

Milosh and Mads interview one of the other people in the cells, who were part of the road wardens involved in an attack (and victims of an ambush) on Kreszk after the bread incident. It seems that point hope has probably been attacked, although the men don’t know for sure. We also take time to arm and feed the men in case they can serve as backup in the upcoming fight, leaving the cell door unlocked behind us.

I perform an autopsy on the dead gurneymen, and see that the face-hugger has infiltrated the men’s spinal column with control cords and injection tubes. It doesn’t look like they can be forcibly removed without harm to the victim. However, the knowledge gained from the examination, combined with information on the notes in the room, gives me the impression that I could use some sort of sonic attack/command word to detach the creatures. It would work better if I dissected the living man, though… We’ll leave that for later.

Milosh and Mads continue on down the hallway and come to a room with a couch and some other furniture, and some supplies that may be used in the torture room. Also here are the pendants that we wore in the asylum. Weird… And even weirder is what happens when Milosh grabs his – he sees a vision of our experience in the asylum, but then it shifts and the asylum suddenly appears in much better repair. And it makes it look like we broke into a legitimate hospital and killed innocent people. The other pendants, grabbed by Mads and I have similar effects. So… We killed orderlies? And Sebastian? Or is this another lie?

The door at the end of the room suddenly opens, and in walks a woman, dressed in a labcoat and flanked by two assistants. We immediately recognize her as the receptionist from the asylum – the one who provided us with the pendants that are sitting in this very room, and which tricked us into killing an unknown number of patients, doctors and orderlies. In a heartbeat, Mads has slammed the door closed behind her to prevent her escape, and Milosh has backhanded an assistant to the ground and has her throat in his grip.

We have a short, tense conversation with her. Infuriatingly, she’s under the impression that we’re part of her team, like most of the awakened. To make things worse, she super proud of tricking us into killing at the asylum, and getting to torture (and maybe turn) Sebastian for her cause. We get so angry that Milosh just tries to outright murder her, which in hindsight could also be part of her plan… So we fight!

She turns out to be pretty tough for a scientist secretary, and is a brutal disciplinarian who makes Mads and Milosh attempt to kill each other before she destroys their minds. It’s rough, but we survive.

Now we’re left with the decision as to whether or not to dismember her, or flay her, or something equally horrible. Oh Mads, you monster…

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Fangs for the Memories

On the other side of the newly – opened passage, we find and follow a hallway sloping gently downward that terminates in the back of a chapel with a dais at the far end and a weak phosphorescent glow coming from the ceiling. Oh, and two skeletal guards. Milosh nonchalantly strolls up through the aisle, drawing the ire of the guards and causing them to attack. Fight!

Once the skeletons are dealt with (aka, scattered across the chamber in the form of dust), we explore. The dais and skeletal remains reveals nothing, other that the fact that the whole structure seems absolutely ancient and undisturbed for ages. There are two doors leading out from the room, and Mads opens the one on the left. The light is stronger here, almost daylight in strength, and to the uneducated eye it looks like a greenhouse. It even has a tree in it, which Mads tries to converse with, labeled “the tree of truth”. And some dead plants that he insists could be undead, because he literally doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

The other door leads to what looks like a medical chamber of some kind, filled with empty shelves. In the center is an ash pile, with scorch marks on the ceiling above it. This ceiling has the same kind of phosphorescence as the other rooms. Around the pile of ash there are 7 skeletal figures. A fragment of paper that we find implies that maybe, just maybe, there might have been some transcendence going on here, and that the fire was fueled by books and scrolls from this storage room.

There is another door exiting from this room, and Mads tries to open it but finds it to be stuck. And not just stuck, but held as if by a person/spirit in the other side. Neither his nor Milosh’s strength is quite enough to pry it open, but pure confidence in my knowledge (i.e. ridiculous ego) is enough to join the get-through-the-door-club. Yay!

Inside is an egg on a pedestal with firefly-like lights swirling around inside of it. I hear something whisper “welcome, apprentice” in my head, and we all feel like there is a presence in the room as we enter. It seems like this is our goal, and that the swirling lights are the memories stolen by the Awakened. The age of this place, however, also implies that the egg here is far older than they, and that the memories (or whatever else it may be) inside could be from creatures other than those we know about.

We argue for some time about what to do – whether to break the egg immediately or take it with us, whether what is inside may be dangerous enough to selectively fish out memories or smash it and release all, whether the voices heard in the chamber are those of the prisoners of the orb or those of the long-deceased builders of this place, etc. Finally we decide to take the orb outside and smash it immediately, and while doing this call Johanna and find out whether it has any immediate effects. So we do, and it does, although exactly what those effects are is unclear.

Oh, and Mads decides that it’s a good idea to eat some fruit from the mysteriously-not-dead tree in the left room of the underground temple, and he gains the power to be slightly more insufferable. AND he makes a direct inquiry to Johanna as to whether she is a demon, the answer to which is surely not a lie that will come to haunt us later.

Finally, we set off on our journey to Kreszk, deciding to bypass Mt Baratak and Point Hope in favor of speed. After we have dealt with the situation there and participated in the surely-not-suicidal attack on the Awakened by Blackburn’s cronies, we will go to Point Hope to make sure that it still stands, then to the mountain to educate ourselves in ancient blue-huffing barbarians, then maybe back to Teufeldorf to burn down the Asylum.

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