Friday, April 25, 2014

Return to Ravenloft: Act Two Synopsis

And So Our Saga Continues

I have been writing up a synopsis of everything that has happened in the Return to Ravenloft campaign that I have been running for my friends over the last few months. This was a campaign that I had been writing for over a year prior and finally was able to bring to fruition at the table with a very awesome group of players! I had originally been doing weekly updates back when the game started but allowed that to fall by the wayside after about a month. But I've decided to pick up the torch and carry on, so here we are!

This is the synopsis for Act Two, which lasted somewhere around four sessions. I divided the campaign into a five act structure, each act showcasing a tonal shift as well as different enemies and the dangers that accompanied them. Where Act One was a mystery-oriented slow burn involving the unraveling of a conspiracy (with shocking setpieces thrown in), Act Two was the arrival of true horror and the realization of danger that the unknown can possess. It was to serve as both a way to introduce the players to the concept and manifestation of horror in the game, as well as a springboard to get them involved in the greater adventure at hand. And, by and large, I think it went very well -- but read on to make your own judgments!

A Change in Cast

Unfortunately, three of our original cast members dropped out of the campaign after Act One was completed. Kait, Kurtis and Kristi all decided to back out, having completed the slow burn of the first act, and allowed Dallas, Nick R. and myself to continue. This created a bit of difficulty as I originally designed the campaign around at least four characters -- operating with half of that number was doable but tricky. Luckily, however, we found some folks who were eager to fill seats at our table. The cast of Act Two changed significantly as the sessions passed but here are the characters that appeared through the running time of the act:
Redemption of Gazeroth, Retired Officer (Tiefling Warlord) - Played by Nick R.
Paelias, The Seer (Eladrin Wizard) - Played by Dallas
Hrothgar the Well-Bearded (Dwarf Paladin) - Played by Arni
Drodis, Mercenary Gladiator (Human Fighter) - Played by Aaron
Gustav, Vistani Explorer (Human Ranger) - Played by David
All characters were Level 3 to start Act Two.

Tell It To Me Again

At the end of Act One, the party had saved the town of Holmont Cove from certain destruction by defeating the evil sorceress Katya and stopping her dark ritual from animating a countless amount of undead. However, this victory was at a great cost -- Marcus Kotar, the paladin who had brought the party together on this quest, sacrificed himself in a blaze of holy light to destroy all remnants of the evil power remaining within the town.

In the aftermath of the final battle of Holmont Cove, the party ended up splitting. Murwen and Elarial scattered to the winds, pursuing their own objectives, while Redemption and Paelias decided to soldier on. As they were reviewing the evidence they had gathered, trying to discern where to go, a dwarven paladin strode into the town and approached them. He introduced himself as Hrothgar the Well-Bearded and told of how his deity, the Raven Queen, had sent him visions of great evil and unrest coming from the northeast through the Svalich Woods. Believing his divine guidance to be the best course forward, Redemption and Paelias joined forces with Hrothgar and the three set off through the woods.

After some travel, they came to a river and were allowed passage by an elderly ferryman who demanded only two coins for passage -- "Any two coins will do, but they must match and must be a pair." Each of the heroes turned over coins of varying worth and arrived at the far bank of the river; on the other side, two things of note struck them. Firstly, while the wildlife was verdant and sprawling on the previous side of the river, here the trees were withering and dying off one by one.

Secondly, as the group were making camp on the river, they were approached by a human male who introduced himself as Drodis. He was a man who had been captured by the goblins some time ago and was forced to fight in their gladiator pits as entertainment. But he had escaped when some calamity took the goblins and had been wandering the woods ever since. Agreeing to accompany the party, at least until they returned to society, Drodis took up a place in the group.

The seemingly idyllic Barovia
Continuing through the forest along a worn and broken path, the party noticed the wildlife began to grow more verdant once again, the life returning to the land. Eventually, the party came to the edge of the forest and saw a lively and colourful town sprawling before them. As they approached, they were greeted by a working crew who were repairing the road, and the foreman led them into town proper and insisted they meet the burgomaster. When asked what this town was, the foreman replied: "Barovia, of course!"

Having a dinner with the burgomaster, the party discovered that a young and benevolent count, Strahd von Zarovich, had brought a small group of people to the kingdom of Barovia to rebuild the glory that had passed. The townsfolk here were all incredibly happy, having no complaints about anything, and the food provided to the party was absolutely delicious.

The party were suspicious of the goings-on, not entirely sure what this meant for their investigation, but they returned to the inn to get lodging for the night. After resting the night away, the party decided to spread out to question different townsfolk. Drodis, Paelias and Hrothgar were mostly fruitless in their investigations, while Redemption witnessed a strange phenomenon.

The tiefling watched as the working crew repaired the road. As he watched, he grew slightly drowsy but managed to fight off the effects -- but not before watching as the working crew seemed to skip from one position to another, almost as an entire image, and witnessed the road instantly complete construction all the way to the edge of the forest. As Redemption picked himself up to head back to his companions, the workers all stopped their task and stood straight up, stock still, before turning as one to stare at Redemption. The scene lasted but a second before the workers returned to work as normal but it had a lasting effect on Redemption.

As the party reconvened, they shared their information and Redemption -- who had previously been the voice of logic -- dictated that they start demanding answers or cutting throats. Before they could push their questions on anyone, however, Redemption and Paelias noticed that the surrounding walls of the tavern seemed to slowly reveal burn marks, as did the floor. Almost simultaneously with that revelation, a man with wild hair and a crazed expression burst into the tavern and approached the party. He demanded them to "Wake up!"

At those words, all of the patrons inside the tavern stopped their conversations and turned to stare at the party as one, dead quiet but intense. The illusion on the walls began to fade further until the party could see holes in the walls leading outside, where even more of the townsfolk were approaching, their eyes locked on the party.

The real Barovia
"Too late!" the wild man shouted, before beckoning the party to follow. They ran upstairs and let themselves out of a second-story window as the townsfolk pursued them. The man led them through the streets and away from the mob, heading up a hill towards the nearby church -- from afar, the church appeared to be in good repair, but the wild man urged the party to look closer, which revealed that the church was as ruined as the rest of the town behind them. Making it inside, the party had a moment to collect their thoughts -- in doing so, they realized that Hrothgar was not with them.

The wild man introduced himself as Gustav, a Vistani ranger who had lived in this valley his whole life -- his people had been destroyed some decades ago by a huge attack from the evil Strahd and he had been in hiding this whole time. Gustav then explained that, though this all seemed real to the party, they were actually dreaming and a terrible creature known as a Nightmare Eater had trapped them in some sort of dream world where it reigned. As a Vistani, Gustav could step between these worlds but he could not pull anyone out with him -- they would need to dispel the monster's influence.

It was about this time that the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, which Redemption was carrying, revealed that it could actually telepathically communicate with it's bearer. Upon being revealed to Gustav, the Vistani was in awe, believing the symbol to have been destroyed years ago. Gustav believed the symbol being brought to Barovia bode well for a fight against Strahd. Of course, the symbol told Redemption not to trust Gustav -- but none of the others were spoken to.

The party determined the Nightmare Eater held his power in the burgomaster's house and tried to strategise on how to reach it. The townsfolk had followed them to the church but would not pass by the barrier of the fence that surrounded it. Shaking off a number of illusions thrown at them by the Nightmare Eater, Gustav suggested that he step out of the dream world and try to dispatch, or at least distract, the Nightmare Eater while the others returned to the burgomaster's home. The Vistani wished them luck and phased out of the dream world.

The Nightmare Eater
The Nightmare Eater was nearby, observing the party in the church, and Gustav fired off a marksman bolt from his crossbow that struck the monster cleanly. Jumping forward to finish the job, Gustav came upon the Nightmare Eater and went to strike him with his swords only to watch the Nightmare Eater phase away. An eruption of dark energy started spewing forth from the burgomaster's house across the town and Gustav barreled towards it, bypassing the fallen townsfolk who had slumped after the Nightmare Eater was dispatched.

In the dream world, the party made a beeline to the burgomaster's house and entered, trying to locate the Nightmare Eater. Finally confronting him, the party was instantly banished to darkness by the monster, their memories jumbled and confused.

Redemption, Drodis and Paelias each found themselves in a world that closely resembled the last significant place of residence for them -- Redemption on his home island, Paelias in his cabin, and Drodis in the goblin gladiator pits. The each lived out a terrifying and horrific dream of their homes, their memories devoid of anything that happened previous, but all eventually came to the realization that they were actually in a dream. They each fought their way out of their nightmares and returned to the burgomaster's house, gathering together once again.

Redemption had escaped first and met with Gustav, who volunteered to distract the Nightmare Eater while the tiefling saved the others. Phasing deeper into the dream into a realm of nothing but blackness, Gustav sought out the dream monster, having an incredible battle in a dream realm that seemed to last for ages. The Nightmare Eater was in it's element and dealt hefty blows to Gustav but the Vistani was able to hold his own for the time being.

Holy Symbol of Ravenkind
Redemption, not trusting the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and growing tired of it's endless warnings against the Vistani, decided to destroy it in a fire. Creating a bonfire in the center of the foyer of the building, the tiefling threw the amulet into it -- only to watch as it absorbed the heat and hovered into the air. Wanting to be rid of the symbol, Redemption struck at it with his bastard sword, knocking it from it's mooring and seeming to crack the dream world around them.

Deep in the dream, Gustav watched as the Nightmare Eater seemed to break apart, brilliant cracks of white light appearing in its body before it splintered apart and dissipated. Suddenly, the dream world around him began to crack as well. Phasing back to find his companions, the party fled from the burgomaster's house as it began to collapse, and the dream with it.

As they stood outside the burgomaster's house, they watched as the building burned to the ground and they were restored to reality. Not wanting to spend any more time in this husk of a town than necessary, the party decided to retreat to Gustav's hideout nearby to rest and decide what to do next.

And On We Go

And that's the end of Act Two. That got quite a bit more wordy than I would have liked but I wanted to ensure necessary details were kept intact -- a lot of interesting things happened in Act Two and it would not have had the same impact in the retelling if I skipped over some things.

So as I mentioned earlier, the cast fluctuated a bit throughout Act Two. Arni, who played Hrothgar, was only present for a single session and basically served as a guide to get the players from Holmont Cove to Barovia, thanks to his goddess. Aaron, who played Drodis, missed the first session of Act Two but was present for the rest of it, though we have not yet seen him during Act Three (which will be wrapping up on Monday). And David, as Gustav, didn't appear until the third session of Act Two, but has been present to every session since. Redemption and Paelias have been consistent from the beginning, of course, and together with Gustav, they now represent the true party.

There were a lot of different things that inspired the content of Act Two. There are elements of Nightmare on Elm Street, Inception ("We have to go deeper!") and even the Slenderman in there, and I think it all worked well together to create something terrifying and unknowable. I envisioned the Nightmare Eater to be a creature composed entirely of shadow and darkness but with large tendrils rising off it's back that it could use to strike its enemies, but who could manipulate dreams in whatever way it desired to either trick the party or physically defeat them. It played pretty well, and one-on-one showdown between Gustav and the Nightmare Eater was particularly awesome -- especially when the dream started to break apart. Good times!

Act Three started the next session but will be wrapping up this Monday -- I'll try to get a synopsis of events until present up on Monday, and then have the Monday update later in the week. After that, hopefully I will stay on track with more regular updates, for those who want to read!

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more!

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