Monday, April 21, 2014

Return To Ravenloft: Act One Synopsis

Hello There, Stranger...

So it's been a really, really, really long time since I gave an update on my D&D campaign Return to Ravenloft. Like forever ago. But I am happy to report that the campaign is still running quite steadily with weekly sessions and a consistent core of dedicated players to keep things moving. That being said, some things have changed since the last update and the lack of updates here means that there is no real record of what has happened, beyond the notes that the players have been taking.

So let's recap, shall we? I'm going to do a number of synopsis posts to get everybody here up-to-date with what's been happening. After we get to the current date in-game, I'll try to stay on top of it a bit more, but let's focus on the tangible for the time being, shall we?

"Bid The Players Make Haste"

First, a quick roll call of our cast when the story began:

Marcus Kotar, Hospitaler Acolyte (Human Paladin of Bahamut 1) - Played by Kurtis
Elarial of Dorthonion, Monster Hunter (Elf Ranger 1) - Played by Kait
Murwen, The Nightingale (Elf Rogue 1) - Played by Kristi
Paelias, The Seer (Eladrin Wizard 1) - Played by Dallas
Redemption, Retired Officer (Tiefling Warlord 1) - Played by Nick

And the hook:
Marcus, an acolyte of Bahamut, was given the quest to venture forth to protect a village far to the north, Holmont Cove. This village was under constant attack from goblins and had been calling for aid for the last few months. Word finally reached the temple where Marcus was taught and he set off to gather a party to accompany him north. Marcus quickly recruited Elarial and Paelias, a hunter and fortune teller from the nearby town of Greenford, and the three made their way to the coast.
At the same time, Murwen convinced Redemption to come out of retirement to pull one last heist. They set off from Aelaria, the capital city, to the coast to catch a boat north towards the prize. On the way, the two parties encountered each other and discovered they were all on their way to Holmont Cove. The five of them decided to join forces -- safety in numbers -- and chartered a vessel to take them north.
And The Story Begins Anew

(Session One and Session Two were documented fairly well in some previous blog posts but I'll give a synopsis of the entirety of Act One, just for simplicity's sake.)

As the party arrived in Holmont Cove, aboard the sailing vessel Montula, they found the streets mostly deserted and all the shops empty. Another ship was moored in the harbour, a large vessel named The Fiery Dawn, but even it's crew was nowhere in sight. The only sight of life they found was in the smithy where the blacksmith informed them the town's guard was out in the woods raiding a goblin camp. Inquiring at the barracks and offering their services to help protect the town, the party were given cots to sleep on until the captain of the guard returned to judge their worth.

The next morning, the town guard returned in retreat, having been bested in the woods by the goblin menace. Introducing themselves to the town council, the party met the captain of the guard (Edgar Polyan), the head priestess (Lady Thera), the burgomaster (Thomas Ludensky) and his mute assistant (Katya). The party inquired as to the state of the goblins and exactly what aid the town needed; the town council gave them little bits of information but nothing truly concrete -- beyond that the population of the town was almost entirely left, having either relocated to somewhere safer or having died at the hands of the goblins.

Deciding to investigate a bit further, the party discovered strange rumours about the goblins and decided it would be best to head out into the woods to find their camp. They were also told by the blacksmith that her brother, Wilhelm, had gone missing out in the woods and were asked to find his fate.

The forest is alive with death.
Striking out into the woods, the party discovered the scene of the ambush that befell the guards and tracked it back to a nearby ruin. Searching inside, the party discovered a cave system under the ruined building and inadvertently disturbed a colony of rats. Fighting for their life, the party managed to best the hordes of rats only to discover a disturbing scene -- someone had made their home in the heart of the cave with the rats. Exploring the makeshift camp, they discovered it to be the quarters of the blacksmith's brother who had gone quite mad. When they turned to leave, Wilhelm stood before them, but had befallen a terrible fate and had contracted lycanthropy, turning him into some form of wererat.

The party convinced him to return to town under the care of Lady Thera, the head priestess of the town, until a cure could be found. Wilhelm relented and, in doing so, shared some information he had gleaned having lived out in the woods -- the goblins were unnaturally strong and did not cease, even after mortal wounds. Further, the brother had witnessed a red cloaked figure resurrect a fallen guard with magic, only to have it become a mindless zombie that wandered into the woods. Evidently, the party was dealing with some sort of necromancer, which helped explain the unnatural strength and resilience of the goblins.

Returning to town with the brother, they made a beeline to the temple and left him in the safekeeping of Lady Thera, then set into the town to further investigate. The party already had an inkling that the burgomaster and his assistant were not to be trusted and, upon return, they discovered that the assistant always wore a red cloak much like the one Wilhelm described in his tale. Being unable to gain any real proof of their involvement, the party instead focused on investigating other parts of the town -- namely, the harbour.

Having had some interaction with Captain Aillard of The Fiery Dawn earlier the day previous, the party discovered the burgomaster owned a private warehouse at the harbour, and learned that the burgomaster was receiving shipments of some kind from the nearby capital. The party decided to break into the warehouse to discover what the burgomaster was hiding. They sent Elarial and Murwen, the two nimble females, to sneak inside but Murwen failed to jump on top of the warehouse and the rest of the party was forced to make a distraction to cover her tracks.

Warehouse interior. Beware of corpses.
Inside, Elarial discovered crates upon crates filled with corpses; a spell on the crates masked the smell but, upon opening the boxes, the contents spilled forth. Hastily making a retreat, Elarial inadvertently activated a magical ward of some kind before beating a hasty retreat. Paelias, being part of the distraction on the dock, noticed the red-cloaked assistant Katya appear almost out of nothing and make a beeline to the warehouse. He observed as she went inside then returned, scanning the dock for something (or someone) before returning inside the warehouse.

Upon reconvening, Elarial shared the information with the rest of the party who decided that the burgomaster -- or, at the very least, his assistant -- was behind the evil this town had encountered. Needing proof before making any accusations, however, the party decided to track the goblins back to their source in the woods and so headed back into the Svalich Woods once again.

Tracking the goblins back to another ruined building -- this one much larger than the last -- the party first dispatched some live goblins outside the building before entering the ruin. Inside, they found grisly evidence of a terrible attack from the interior of the ruin, and a hasty retreat outside marked by the barricades on the exterior of the doorways. An interior temple held a grisly vignette of decapitated bodies laid at the feet of a statue of a god, while the heads were tossed to the side in a pile.

Inside the ruin proper, the party found further evidence of a great battle having raged in the basement. Following the trail of blood and gore, they eventually came to a room the goblins must have used as sleeping quarters only to find a horde of goblin zombies shambling about. A great battle broke out and the party managed to dispatch the zombies, but the discovery was unnerving to say the least.

The party found a single surviving goblin locked away in the very rear of the ruin; he told them in broken Common about a red-cloaked woman who gave their leader an amulet of great power. Shortly after the amulet came into his possession, he randomly attacked one of his followers, who then became infected and attacked another and so forth. The entire thing escalated until more than half the goblins had been slaughtered or eaten and the rest retreated out of the ruin into the wilderness and away. The party was able to confirm this story by finding the amulet on one of the dead goblins in the nearby sleeping quarters.

Goblins are annoying, but undead goblins? That's just unfair.
Whilst searching this ruin, the party also found a magically sealed room that once served as an office to some sort of priest. Inside, they found a book of rituals and another amulet, this one bearing the symbol of a raven. They were also attacked by living suits of armour but the raven amulet allowed Marcus to bend the constructs to his will. The book they discovered detailed rituals that pertained to a legendary order of knights known as the Ravenkind.

Returning to Holmont Cove, now with evidence, the party made a beeline for the town barracks. They explained their suspicions to the captain of the guard who agreed to accompany them as they investigated. The party went straight for the dock and entered the burgomaster's warehouse and showed Captain Polyan the dead bodies in the crates. That was plenty of evidence for the captain, who agreed to apprehend the burgomaster for questioning.

Upon leaving the warehouse, however, the party was accosted by the crew of The Fiery Dawn, all of whom were evidently in the employ of the burgomaster. A big fight broke out on the dock as the sailors, led by Captain Aillard, and it fell to the paladin Marcus to hold them back while Captain Polyan went to retrieve his troops.

The rest of the party escaped the harbour and set off to apprehend the burgomaster Ludensky and his assistant but, arriving in the town square, they watched as Lady Thera was blasted through a second-story window and fell to the cobbles below. Katya, the red-cloaked assistant, floated through the window and started blasting the party from above with beams of dark energy.

A huge battle broke out in the square: Redemption rushed to the side of the fallen Lady Thera and got her back on her feet; Murwen scaled a building only to leap off and grab the flying sorceress; Elarial skirmished around the square firing arrows into the sky; and Paelias used his magical abilities to control the battlefield. Eventually Redemption attached a rope to a crossbow bolt and fired it into Katya's leg above and, together with the party, dragged her back to earth.

Katya in all her crazed glory.
A short melee later and Katya was dispatched but began to mock the party for being "too late". She made
mention to a figure named Strahd and then started conjuring a spell under her breath. Paelias plunged his longsword into Katya's neck, silencing her for good, but with her dying breath released her stored magic in a powerful pulse of dark energy that shot off toward the dock.

Chasing the pulse as quickly as possible, the party watched from a vantage point over the harbour as the energy passed into the burgomaster's warehouse -- suddenly, Paelias detected a huge spike of necromantic energy from inside the warehouse, and the party knew that the corpses within were being resurrected en masse.

From this vantage point, the party could see the carnage that remained of the sailors, Marcus standing amidst their fallen bodies and covered in gore. It was evident that Marcus was injured but he too detected the necromantic energy from the warehouse. Sharing a knowing look with the party above the harbour, the paladin rushed headlong towards the warehouse.

Running down to the harbour proper, the party made it almost to the warehouse when divine light began to shine forth from within. Energy rushed out and stopped the party in their tracks; a split second later, the warehouse exploded with divine magic and the party was thrown about from the blast. When the dust cleared, the warehouse, the corpses and Marcus were no more. The only thing remaining in the crater was the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, sitting completely devoid of any damage whatsoever. Redemption pocketed the symbol and the party took a moment to mourn for Marcus before returning to the town square.

They reconvened with Captain Polyan and Lady Thera and went to confront the burgomaster. Instead, when they reached his office, they found only a letter and a hidden compartment that housed the remains of the burgomaster in an advanced state of decomposition. The letter they discovered detailed an agreement between Ludensky and a figure who identified themselves as "Count Strahd von Zarovich, Count of Barovia", and also seemed to suggest that the Ludensky the party had met was some kind of impostor.

Assuming the impostor was in the wind, the party decided to split up: two of the party set off to search for clues in different places while the others set off in search of the legendary nation of Barovia.

This, Too, Shall Pass

And that was the end of Act One! I skimmed over most of the details but everything from showing Captain Polyan the warehouse to the end was in the finale session for Act One. The sessions were somewhat lacklustre through the middle of the act -- some sessions dragged while others were just plain boring -- but it ended on a very high note that everybody really enjoyed, so I'd call that a win! Or, well, mostly a win. Sorta.

Sadly, because of the way the campaign ebbed and flowed, three of our group decided they weren't interested in continuing. Kurtis (who played Marcus) decided to bow out before the end of Act One, which actually inspired me to use him as the heroic sacrifice to save Holmont Cove from an undead infestation. Kait and Kristi (Elarial and Murwen, respectively) managed to stick it out until the end of Act One, wanting to see that story come to a close, but called it quits after that.

It was sad to see more than half the party bow out basically all at once and, frankly, was a bit disheartening. But it had a few good side effects: firstly, it made me much more aware of the pacing of each session and helped me gauge how quickly things should progress. In retrospect, I perhaps was a bit ambitious with the scope of this campaign and included a lot of erroneous content, at least for players new to D&D, and I definitely intend to scale back on that in the future.

The other good thing that happened is that it gave me the opportunity to bring some new, more experienced, players into the campaign. I really enjoyed playing with the three K's in my life (Kurtis, Kristi and my fianceƩ Kait) but there's something about having experienced players in a campaign that really helps make it come alive. Regardless, the campaign continues and things only get crazier from here!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, or had something you'd like to say, let me know with a comment below! And stay tuned for the synopsis of Act Two which should be coming in the next few days!

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