The Abyss Stares Back

Won't You Take Me to CRAZYTOWN

Heinrich, whom we go to visit, is a drunk and a wizard, but the wizard part has yet to be proven. He is distracted and obviously a slob, as his house is a mess and smells of booze. And yet we speak with him.

He is aware of the sanitarium and its history, and he tells all. It was a place with a shifty reputation since many people who were not actually crazy were shipped there, including women with child and other undesirables. About 5 years ago there was a patient uprising and the doctors and other staff were killed or captured, and the place has been off the grid since then.

The cult has also been to visit this guy (and left acid pits in Heinrich’s chair to prove it). They wanted to know about a magic item called the ring of erudition that this guy used to own. He tells us, and told the cult, that he sold it to Schneideldorf. This explains Schneideldorf’s messed up house, ransacked by the cult looking for the item. And Schneideldorf was awfully suspicious of us and wanted to accuse us of stealing his jewelry.

We convince Heinrich to come with us to aid in the casting of the ritual that we are carrying from Schneideldorf, and he does! The five of us immediately head off for the sanitarium.

We come to the front gate of the asylum and are set upon by some of the patients who evidently have been turned into werewolves. We are forced to destroy them, unfortunately, and feel even worse when we find a nest that they were living in inside a bush with a teddy bear inside it.

Mads climbs up to the second story to look in one of the cracks in a window and has someone’s eye look back at him. We debate for a moment whether to go in through the attic or the basement, but follow Milosh’s suggestion and use the basement. After breaking through a chain on the cellar doors outside, we enter a storage area. Inside are cans of food and a… receptionist?

She asks us why we are being admitted and we describe our maladies. She listens carefully, then gives us our IDs, which are charms specific to each of us (a tree for Mads, knife for Milosh, moon for me, lightning bolt for Sebastian and bottle for Heinrich).

We go upstairs, gather clothes to look vaguely like patients, and start exploring. On the other side of a set of double doors are a set of little girls jumping rope and singing a rhyme. It’s about us! Maybe. Mads talks to them and nearly reassures them of our non-threatening nature. But then their guardian, a monstrous gargoyle, shows up (whom they are afraid of) and we run away. But so do they, after giving us a key to escape the room!

Who will the gargoyle chase? Inquiring minds want to know…

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Everybody Needs a Hobby

We take our time messing around with the cult lieutenant, trying to threaten him into telling us where the sanitarium is. No dice. He doesn’t fear us, seeing as how he is already sworn to a dark god, and even after Mads cuts off one of his fingers, he remains silent. The man knows the things that make us interesting (my demon words, Mads’ star talking, Sebastian’s visions, Milosh’s ability to be static). This, according to him, is due to the Scholar sucking the memories out of someone whom we have obviously never met, so I’m not sure how they would know so much about us.

We regroup and try a different tactic, something that’s usually successful when you fail to talk/threaten someone into helping you. Mads tries to get him to believe that Mads wants to switch sides if he can get the cult to help him get home. It sort of works, since the cultist tells him to take us north, away from the sanitarium. Mads tells him that he will let the cultist go (and then will try to follow him with ghosts), but decides to kill him instead. Because Mads.

We continue south to Teufeldorf, and then question some of the townsfolk about crazy dudes and where they might end up. The consensus is that the Church of Lathander is the place to start, since the head priest, Mortimer, helps the sick there. However, the acolyte of the church is the most interesting, AND HE HAS A NAME, since he had been to the site of the sanitarium. He is part of a low level group of vigilantes (so cute) that has tracked vampires in the surrounding woods and who can give us some other clues. If we meet other vampire hunters, we are to mention the “hand of the Morning Lord”, which sounds quite euphamistic. Who knows what that will get us… But anyway, he’s seen the sanitarium on some of his jaunts, although he has never been there. He also begs us to not tell Morty about his side project, since that guy is old and would not approve of murdering evil creatures of the night. At least not if you’re a baby man.

Someone whom we haven’t talked to, but has been mentioned by the townsfolk, is Heinrich Leipzig the spellcaster, who might know about Magic and rituals and such. He is also an investigator, so is like totally cool.

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Finally, Frankenberries

We go into the experiment room, now that Mads has disarmed the trap on the door leading into it. Inside is a long hallway with two long shelves leading parallel away from us, made up of a collection of stacked books, cages and furniture. It continues to reek of acid and decay.

Mads goes a short distance ahead to check out the cages. Inside are what looks like the remains of large rats – a ball of decay and fur that he doesn’t look at more closely for fear of squid attack. Yes, squid attack.

Further into the room there is a large, fish tank-like structure holding an unconscious creature. In fact, there are two such tanks, one that holds a very dead elf and another that holds a less dead collection of human parts. Milosh dumps over a corpse from a nearby gurney for some reason and explodes its head, which is cool and all, but then the rest of them attack us. Fight!

We crush the zombies, even though the flesh golem leading them is pretty brutal. Going through the room, we notice that just about everything useful has already been removed, but we do find a page from someone’s notes with reports on some of the cultists activity, mentioning the caves near Kreszk, the ravager farm near Berez, and a sanitarium named Merrimeade. The latter is the location of a gathering that the author of the page is currently attending. For a ritual. That we should go and stop.

We find some old explosives in the mine, wire it up in the lab and then blow the whole thing up. And then we remember the lizard men… Oops.

We make for Teufeldorf, but before we get to the main road we hear the sound of a crazy preacher guy saying that the faithless are coming, and that we don’t approve of them, etc etc. We are apparently the faithless, and these are a bunch of cultists who don’t like our style. Or our murdering of them. Wah. So we come out of the woods in the middle of his followers, then Milosh summons some ghosts and all hell breaks loose, quite literally.

Finally we defeat them and knock out the main guy, resolving to torture information out of him later. Oh, and we also rescue the Huntress, whom he had kidnapped. Now we’re off to Teufeldorf to figure out what this sanitarium is that the page speaks of, and hopefully this is where we can disrupt the ritual. We only have a few days left, after all…

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Wizard and Lizard: Canceled

The lizard men are not mining out the wall as we originally thought. Instead, they appear to be carving something into the wall, and the stone on which they are doing so is both black and sparkling. They are being watched over by a single guard who is wielding two whips, simultaneously. He’s good!

Mads decides to try to make friends with the lizards and get them to rise up against what we assume is their master. So we do that. Mads goes in and tries to put on a show of being their friend, even though he doesn’t speak their language, since he’s SO DAMN SMOOTH. It works, at least enough to distract then for a while, although their slave driver tries to get them to attack us while he does the same. Fight! The lizards are distracted enough by Mads to fight at half power, which is pretty sweet.

We are victorious, and we even leave a few of the lizards alive (no thanks to me), having freed them from their magical collars. Two of them flee from us into an equipment storage closet and then down into a volcanic steam crack. We don’t follow, assuming that were we to do so it would end in burning and acid.

In the other direction there is a hall that leads gently down into the mines. There are several doors along the sides, and one of them is boarded up. Mads listens and decides that the boarded room is EXTRA quiet and this should be the one that we investigate first. This turns out to be a bad idea, because the room is haunted by the ghosts of some dead miners. Who attack Mads and at least partially possess Sebastian. Fight!

We defeat the ghosts (and I smack Sebastian in the head to keep him from being fully possessed), but they don’t go away, at least not totally. They ask us, through Sebastian, to release them from their torment and find their bones. These are up in the main entrance area at the first cave in that we saw, and the ghosts give us a map to them, imprinted into Sebastian’s mind in a script made entirely of anguished sadness.

We go up there and clear the rubble, free the bones and satisfy the ghosts. They owe us favors now! And nothing bad could ever come of that.

We continue our investigations. Further down the tunnel, we find another door, but this one is visibly chained and locked. There is a sign outside the door warning of active experiments. Mads is suspicious and checks the door over for traps and, sure enough, finds and disarms a nasty one. Then we quietly push the door open a crack. The acrid scent of decay wafts through, along with the caustic, acidic fumes that are becoming so familiar to us. Experiments? Decay? This can only be a good sign.

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What's Yours are Mines

We depart on the road, traveling overnight to Valleki, then sleeping half a day before moving on to an inn in the road to Kreszk, sleeping again, and then traveling to Berez. Once there, the Huntress offers to escort us to the mines north of Teufeldorf, where we believe the cultists to be, because of the material for the statue that we had seen before.

We skill (and demon-hornet-kill) our way to the mines, where the Huntress leaves us, but not before she issues warnings about the dangers there – the spirits of miners who had been killed there, as well as lizard creatures. Lizard creatures? Here in the cold? Must be evil.

We find the entrance of the mine and Mads goes scouting, finding that the first chamber of the mine is being guarded by two cultists and a large, sleeping lizard-like creature. Mads disarms the trip wire across the doorway and we charge in. The lizard turns out to be a dragon, but a small one. Which is good, because now we have to fight it. Them. Everyone!

We defeat the guards without them calling out in alarm and drag the bodies outside, then rearm the trap. There are two exits from the room, although one of them is blocked by a cave in. We take the other fork, heading down into the mine.

Along the way, Mads notices a secret door on the wall, and notices that there is a plate on the door with the image of a dragon in it. This image matches the dragon image on the key that he stole from a dream… So he uses it, even though he has never used a key before in his life. Inside is a small alcove, with a shelf that holds a box. Inside the box is a ring that can be used to peek around corners and the like. Score!

We continue down and come to a larger cavern with a group of lizardmen mining a galaxy basalt wall under the whips of a slave driver. We don’t like slavery. Or lizardfolk, probably. And damn it, we’re going to do something about one (or both) of those.

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Back to School

We go to the university to talk with Johanna, or just to find her. Outside, there is a small group of homeless people looking pitiful and talking to themselves. Mads goes over and talks to one. He speaks crazy, seemingly having forgotten his name and other details about his life. Coincidence?

He mentions only two things that we memorize: room 203 and liking the color blue (but less so purple). Very curious, but we take him at his word and decide to look through the buildings and see if those words make any sense.

We stop one of the students, a sophomore, and ask about the buildings and professor Johanna. She has been here for more than a year, and the buildings are divided into classrooms, old main and some student housing, but nothing strange comes to his mind. Anyway, the two classroom buildings turn up empty.

We move onto the main tower and go to room 203, where a name tag gives the name Cyan Nubun. Cyan is blue? It’s suspicious, certainly… We go and talk to Joanna, figuring that he might come up in conversation, and that we’ll break in later.

On to my old professor! It is indeed her, but it takes a moment to get her attention. Reunion! Surprise hugs! She tells us that she got here through the contemplation of suicide, and that she had some kind of palsy disease and tried to kill herself. We talk about all the problems of the world. This Cyan guy has been missing for a few days, the crazy people just started showing us a few weeks ago, and there is an evil moon that will probably cause this eclipse in 6 days.

She can’t really do anything for Lucinda, but offers to put her into isolation with the students who have been affected.

Mads then goes off to Cyan’s office to rummage, I bring Lucinda and Cyan to the mental ward of the school, and then we get on the road to Teufeldorf.

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A Stitch in Mind
Could also have been the Wheel of Mind

We start off at the edge of the lake and can see the city of Barovia across. Nearby is a dock and a small shack, and being is we can hear the sound of something chasing us through the forest. Mads goes to look for a boat by the dock while i knock at the door. A man answers, a fisherman, and we hastily negotiate for passage.

Across the lake we go, and we see the demon emerge from the flaming woods and destroy the fisherman’s house, and possibly his cats. The man, Peter, is upset by this, and we half-heartedly apologize. And then continue the journey without incident.

We arrive on the other side near the city and head up to the road into town. On the way in, Sebastian drops in pain with another vision, one that he describes as having a lunar eclipse, sacrificial victims in white robes streaming blood, and a large round room.

We reach the city and find an inn to stay at – the Blood and the Vine. We settle down and analyze. Lucinda, it seems, is trapped in a nightmare, making gasps of terror and having her eyes twitching as if in REM sleep.

We talk about what to do. We consider taking her to Strahd and immediately dismiss it as a terrible idea. We also consider looking for a powerful wizard, but Milosh tells us that they all become evil as they get older. Our first step, then, we’ll be to find a doctor and see if any kind of medical knowledge can help her, and then take her to the Vistani and see if they can find, or cure her, of a curse.

I try to diagnose her myself and cannot come to a conclusion, although she for a moment seems to think that I am vanRichten. Mads takes a crack at her at night, trying to get into her dreams by drinking poisons and sleeping underneath her cot. He fails, and ends up convered in his own vomit for his troubles.

In the morning, Milosh goes out to find the doctor, and gets a few recommendations from the mead boy – an apothecary, sisters who “know things” and a quack named Mordenheim. He chooses the sisters, since this is not a normal disease.

The sisters are seamstresses, and Milosh finds them in their shop spinning and cutting thread. He tells them in a Roundabout way about Lucinda’s trouble and they tell him that they might be able to provide knowledge. First, they need something of hers to scan her, and payment from someone else (not money). He agrees, and goes back to the inn to discuss.

We decide to do what we can to help her, and take her favorite vanRichten book out of her pocket to use as a material link and go back to the spinners. Their price is the dearest memory of someone loved and lost. It’s is too high for Milosh, who needs the memory of his lost love to continue on. So they take my memories of Lucinda instead.

They tell us that we need to find the teacher, the tutor, something from the past, and that what had been forgotten can be relearned. There is also talk of the pages falling out of her book, or the colors running on her painting, etc. And that is all, and they retreat, leaving us without my memories. Milosh isn’t exactly sure, but he thinks that Lucinda was originally from Teufeldorf.

Back to the inn. On the way, we find a flyer with my old teacher’s name on it, saying that she is giving a lecture at the local University tomorrow. Even though we are not in our own world. We decide to go today and see what we can learn.

But first, actually back to the inn, where we find Sebastian traumatized and Lucinda awake. She is very confused and distraught, so i go to the apothecary to get some heroin. And then we drug her. like any concerned friends would do.

So we’ll do the university, then off to Teufeldorf.

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The Cabin in the Woods
A lesson in how to kick a hornets' nest

The road wardens took some time recovering from the attack to tend to their wounded, scan the horizon for more attacks, and collect their much-awaited bread from the overturned cart. While they did this, however, there was a commotion coming from inside of the main building, and it seemed as if the people who had taken shelter in the structure during the bread debacle were now running out. Milosh was the only one with enough situational awareness to notice this, and was the first to rush in through the doors. Inside, after struggling through the fleeing crowd, he came upon one of the wardens left to watch Lucinda and Schneideldorf, now crawling down the hall bloodied and half-crazed. He managed to stammer something about a monster that he and the other library garrison members tried to fight, and then slumped against the wall in pain and exhaustion.

Upon reaching the library, Milosh found it in disarray, although no vicious creatures could be seen inside. Books were scattered all about, and the cage where Schneideldorf had been languishing looked to have been torn open from the inside. The scholar (the one we didn’t like) was still inside, now quite dead, with his head bent sideways at an unnatural angle. His condition was confirmed by Milosh with a few quick pokes of his sword. The other scholar (that we do like) was missing entirely, although there was a fair amount of blood splashed on the floor around her desk and a trail of it leading towards the cage. Milosh questioned another one of the guards, unconscious on the floor of the room, whom he slapped back into wakefulness. Lucinda had been taken, the bookwarden relayed, by a huge creature who appeared out of thin air along with a few of the cultists, presumably during our battle with the unbread cohorts of Nedsdad. The cultists even had a message for Lucinda before beating her into unconsciousness – “Blood begets blood. He wishes to speak with you”. And now they probably are.

There were only a few signs of the cultists’ presence here – the overturned shelves and general destruction, a lingering, horrific stench like sulfur mixed with rotting flesh, and the glimmering, sparkling remnants of what appeared to be teleportation magics inside of the shattered cage (said I, after Mads and I arrived in the library to look for Milosh). The magical effects were still lingering enough for us to analyze them, and my conclusion was that it was a medium range, intraplanar portal with a geographical offset of some distance to the east, probably near the city of Barovia. But this wasn’t very accurate, and we were somewhat fond of Lucinda (I was, at least), so we decided to bend our magical might to the task of her immediate rescue. And by magical might, I mean Sebastian, whom we convinced to hold open the link until we could set up for a ritual. Inside the cage, we constructed a tent covered in bizarre runes of Mads’ design, and Sebastian and I worked together to pull the portal back open and hurl ourselves through it. And we did! After a three-hour casting, and without even one of us being torn apart in a magical maelstrom of destruction. Which, in hindsight, was very much a possibility.

We appeared on a rough trail leading through dark woods, the floor of the bookcage translocated with us and still underfoot (along with a sizable chunk of Schneideldorf), but even in the dim light it was not difficult to find the footprints of a large, clawed creature imprinted on the path, along with the boots and acid-scorched dirt that was the sign of the cultists. The trail had the stink of them, literally. We followed it until a hour or so after sunset, at which point we came to a large clearing containing a single-room-sized shack, probably a woodcutter’s or hunter’s, and a large, stench-emanating barn, both backed by a rocky cliff with a sliver of the moon rising over them. On the path between the woods and the shack stood two cultists around a small campfire, watching the path and the boundary of the woods.

Mads went off on his own to scout the area and skillfully avoided the gaze of the two guards, making his way up to a window on the side of the house. Although his view was obscured by a curtain, he could see the rough silhouette of one person sitting on a chair and another two people walking around inside the structure. No one was speaking, and the person in the chair did not appear to be struggling. He then made his way back to us to report. We decided to go smash-and-grab on the shack, with Mads getting into position under the window once again and jumping in to break the person in the chair (Lucinda, we hoped) free and drag her out of the shack before her guards could react, while the rest of us rushed the sentries to keep them and whatever-was-in-the-barn occupied long enough to let Mads and hopefully-Lucinda escape.

So we did just that! Or something approximating that, at least. Mads blinked into the room in a blur, but instead of cutting Lucinda free immediately (it was, in fact, Lucinda), he attacked her captors, who were definitely of a higher calibre than the average cult thug. This gave her torturer time to put his dirty hands on her skull, to what effect we did not know. Meanwhile, as Milosh and I charged the campers, a massive demon-thing exploded out from under the barn and counter-attacked, nearly decapitating Milosh. We could only keep its attention on us for a few moments, but it was enough for Mads to finally get back in on the plan, dump Lucinda out of the chair away from surely-not-death-with-one-touch guy and hurl himself and her out of the shack’s window, followed by the cackling laughter of those inside. Seeing that he was free, Milosh and I turned and ran from the demon and the remaining cultists.

We retreated to the south, keeping one step ahead of our pursuers, and finally came to the shores of Lake Zahrovich, dark and glistening in the weak moonlight. On the other side glowed the lights of the city of Barovia. If only we could reach it…

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The Walking Bread

We return to point hope to compare notes and to interrogate (and potentially assassinate) Schneideldorf. We first discuss with the captain and keeper about the camp and what we found there, including the notes, circle diagram and purple smoke powder, and Lucinda seems to agree with us on the importance of such things.

As for Schneideldorf, they have put him into the book cage, where he is working on something that might be able to close the half-open portal in the cave. We take the opportunity to question him a little more about the cult, since we suspect him of more involvement than before. He is busy writing something on a piece of parchment, and is very impatient for us to leave him alone.

He claims that it is a ritual to shut the portal that opened back in the cave, but that he needs an hour or so to finish his work. We ask him for the first page of the document at least, telling him that we would like to be as prepared as possible when we actually have to enact the ritual, but also wanting to compare his handwriting to that of the notes that we found in the Ravager camp. He grudgingly gives us the notes and Mads, as the resident forgery expert of the group, compares the two sets of writing. His expert opinion, if it can be called that, is that the samples do not match, and that Schneideldorf is not the Scholar mentioned in the text. Too bad, because then we would already have him in prison.

We go back to Dorfman and torment him a bit more, saying that we are going to release him from the cage at some point, but that it is too dangerous right now with the Awakened roaming around who-knows-where. Possibly even here, although that seems unlikely.

But it suddenly becomes much more likely! Mads and Milosh, best friends forever, take some time off from protecting the innocent and witty banter to help the Roadwardens with another pressing issue – the bread delivery is late. Needless to say, a warden without his breakfast bread is not operating at full capacity. The two of them set up a watch on the fort’s walls and finally, to everyone’s joy, the bread wagon rumbled up to the gates. It’s Ned’s dad, Lumpumsomethingshire! And he had bread! But he also carries with him a staff, and a message. The message came from a golden-haired, curly-locked lunatic on the road, who warned us, through Nedsdad, that we should back off or bad shit would happen. And to prove his point, bad shit did then happen, with Nedsdad stamping the staff against the ground releasing a burst of DEMONENERGY, as well as a bunch of actual, snarling demons. Fightclub that shit!

Ned’s bread dad could have fled in misled dread, but instead was bled, shred and left for dead by his braindead retread of the unsaid, inbred dead-ahead cheese spread. But at least the bread was ok!

Cultist bitches just stepped it up a notch, and they have Ned the inbred, unwed bread head. Time to respond, gangnam style.

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The End of an Era

The battle does not immediately get better. Ulrich goes down again, as do I, and things get grim. Milosh arrives and joins in the fight, but can’t stop the big guy from taking another swing at Ulrich and obliterating his life force. Crap. The guy also crushes his hand into the ground, destroying the evil wand that he carries.

But it doesn’t stick! Ulrich is restored, and surely it is not for any terrible reason. The wand that he was using is gone, but the hand that was crushed has been replaced with something that looks like the wand – dark and shriveled. He leaves the fight, which we don’t understand, and goes off towards the men who are imprisoned in the circle.

We continue to fight, and with a few well timed critical hits we down the big guy and his last minion. Success! Sort of. There is something wrong with Ulrich, in that he attempts to magically enslave one of the ravagers, someone who was just recently converted in the circle (and who has just killed the other men there, as well as a few other people who were in a separate cage). And does! But he and Milosh disagree on the best use for a ravager pet and Milosh kills it even though Ulrich tries to intervene.

We free the last few survivors in the cage and toss the camp. The smoke is coming from smoldering stones in the pit that dissolve when exposed to cold water. I gather up a sample in a vial for later examination and bury the residue. Also around the pit are symbols carved into the soil, although most of them are obscured by trampling footprints. They are vaguely reminiscent of the circle in the cultists’ cave earlier.

Milosh goes through some of the other buildings and find papers and diagrams that remind him of Schneideldorf’s writings. There is a letter to a man named brother Terence that instructs him to use subjects of some kind to create a battalion of creatures to defend the cult. So… the cultists are responsible for creating the ravagers? And this camp is the origin point of the whole shebang? The letter is signed by “the scholar”. Maybe Schneideldorf knows more than he has been admitting?

Mads goes into the large shed that the big ravager came out of and finds a number of bodies in various stages of decay. Included in the pile are several figures in the robes of the cult. So maybe they created the ravagers, but their creations turned on them?

So now our two foes appear to be related in a way that we did not suspect previously, and perhaps looking into the cult would give us more secrets of the ravagers and vice versa.

Anyway, we try to render the camp useless to the ravagers (put out the smoke, obscure the runes in the dirt etc), but leave it unburned with the intent of having the road wardens come and investigate further.

We leave the camp and make our way back to Berez, then head north to the ruined inn to spend the night before returning to Point Hope to give our report to the Roadwardens. The night, however, is dark and full of terrors, and while the rest of us sleep Ulrich departs for points unknown. He leaves a note for Mads, saying that the elf is the only one who might understand, and says that he is going to meet his master, from whom he will gain true power. When we wake, we discuss this, and assume that Ulrich has gone to Strahd to hang out with vampires and other evil shit. We briefly discuss going after him, but we decide that we have more pressing matters to attend to, and head to Point Hope instead, with the understanding that we will probably encounter Ulrich again in the future.

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