Wine & Roll: Design Notes and Curse of Strahd Progress
This post will include details about the Curse of Strahd campaign for Dungeons & Dragons (Fifth Edition) at the "Update" header. If you are a player who missed a session, then this is a great place to learn what happened, but if you want to stay in the dark, then halt now! First, we'll talk about how we're running the campaign.
Campaign Tracking Mechanics
As the second Curse of Strahd campaign I have run, I wanted to increase the sense of tension and exploration of the grim world of Barovia. Ravenloft is perpetually thick with fog, thieves, and monsters, so fostering an environment of mystery and horror are key. Having taken a few notes from Matthew Colville's video on the topic (link), I'm using a hex-grid map to draw out the setting as they explore. The notion is that this would mimic some cartographically minded character's notes, but create a shared visual log to accompany player notes. The result has been well-received!
The thick forests that press in on the trails and the villages can feel massive, the players must first explore and learn in the style of a fog of war or West Marches style, but they end up with a shared narrative. It also allows me to plop in extra detail for villages and landmarks once they're discovered. We often start our sessions here in order to review and do our "Previously On Wine & Roll" before jumping into the game. You'll also see the dawn image below Barovia which I have used to help identify what days have dawned where, adding a time-tracking element to the map. (In the Curse of Strahd campaign, several events are time-triggered, so encoding has special bonuses in this case.)
That's a quick system update for now! Keep reading for a campaign update!
Update: Curse of Strahd, Campaign Day 6
On Sunday we rolled back into Barovia after a two week play hiatus. With a slightly small party, we allowed Davian Martikov to act as a game master player character (GMPC). (I've used the Raven Queen Warlock Pact from a WotC Unearthed Arcana to build up the character [link], which I may share at a later date.) On the previous day, Davian Martikov accompanied our unlikely heroes to deliver wine to Vallaki, where he wished to meet with his son. The heroes helped unload and were treated kindly by their hosts. Ensuring the flow of wine to the Blue Water Inn and Vallaki more generally has secured Ireena Petrovna shelter therein.
Come the morning they set out, with Davian, back to the Wizard of the Wines vineyard. The road was uneventful, until they came upon the clearing at the vineyard itself. What at first resembled a sickly treant was tearing apart the southern fields vineyard as it worked its way toward the winery and home of the Martikovs! Davian hurried the carriage along, pushing the steeds through their anxiety toward them. Needle and twig blights bounded onto the horses and cart, before getting blasted away by Zeruck, our Dwarven Wizard, with scorching rays. Wilhelmina, our Human Monster Hunter Fighter, lobbed heavy crossbow bolts at the malignant growth as the cart bounced. Birzoon, our Gnomish Cleric, blessed Wil, though she was not yet in need of such guidance.
Having gained the attention of the creature, they could see that its massive, bark-lined maw and empty eyes glowed an eerie green from somewhere within. In response, It tore off stones from the winery building and lobbed them at the carriage as it approached. Wilhelmina dodged the stone, but its weight crashed through the cart, sending the adventurers toppling through the air. Wilhelmina became trapped under a horse, while the others rolled safely away, only to be surrounded by more blights!
Davian summoned black, mists from a raven-feathered focus that raced along the ground toward the massive blight before attempting to blast it with eldritch magics, only to shoot wide. Zeruck cleared away the smaller blights nearby while Wil's rapier became stuck in a wounded twig blight and ran into the vineyard before collapsing. Birzoon summoned a mace, glowing white and green, that struck at the blights nearby, though a cheap shot caught him unaware, disrupting his concentration and dismissing the weapon. As the creature approached, it lashed at Wilhelmina and Davian, who took minor wounds from its franticly swinging branches and roots. A vine blight and lesser creatures could be seen forcing the winery door open not far from the cart crash.
With the lesser blights dispatched and her rapier a painfully short distance away, Wilhelmina sent bolt after bolt against the fearsome monstrosity as it raised her off the ground with a massive root. The party gathered around it, blasting and firing away in a clang of explosions and steel. The massive blight raised Wil into its mouth, cutting deep with its picketed mouth; as she bled from a wide, gnarled wound, she collapsed to the ground, a raven landing upon her chest as her vision faded. Birzoon was quick to her side as she fought or her life, treating her wounds and returning her to consciousness while Zeruck blasted the creature with rays of fire.
As his family cried out, Davian turned to Wilhelmina, who nodded with understanding, as Davian cloak collapsed and out flew a raven toward an upper window. And just as the raven flew past, roots seemed to come from all directions, grappling our heroes and holding them in the air. The roots, like great snakes, squeezed the life-giving breath from our heroes, while they relentlessly assaulted the monstrosity with bolt and fire and holy radiance. With his spiritual mace smashing and a radiant light burning, Birzoon felled the creature, its grip loosening on he and his companions, the light of his sacred flame continuing to burn at the unholy creature.
Within the winery, Davian held his grandson Martin in his hands, his family around the two. Davian whispered words of power in a croaking, dry voice as Martin continued to breathe, but only barely. Birzoon attempted to treat the boy, though was unsuccessful. With time, perhaps Martin would heal, but how well was as yet unclear.
To find the source of the creature, Wilhelmina, Birzoon, and Zeruck went south to Yester Hill, which is lined with massive cairns and topped with a tight henge of stones. The cairns were explored, revealing crude beds within, while a figure stared into a massive wall of fog. The faint sound of church bells could be heard, as they attempted to move toward the figure, a cloak flapping in the wind. Wilhelmina was addressed first, the stern, arch figure turning his head in profile against the fog, revealing the visage our adventurers had seen on coin and portrait: Count Strahd von Zarovich.
The Devil Strahd, as so many Barovians have referred to him, spoke firmly to the three, easily identifying even Zeruck, hunkering near the cairns. Surrounding Strahd was the suggestion of a distant village and fortress in the fog. With stilted, uncertain conversation, the four introduced themselves. As he passed so close as to be within reach of Wilhelmina and then Birzoon, he handed them an invitation to dine at Ravenloft. He also mourned his failed attempt at defeating the "pests" to the north. The Count took special notice of Zeruck, her scarred face inspiring him to say that Barovia often welcomes those who have seen such cruelty.
Count Strahd led the three to the circular henge topping the hill, revealing a crater left by the creature he identified as Wintersplinter from the earth here. He discouraged exploration of the sickly copse of trees just south before departing atop a coal black steed with mane, tail, and hoof of blazing fire.
After a moment of tense quiet, the adventurers departed.
Finally, the heroes met with the shaken Martikov family. Davian, his home assaulted and family strained, has committed himself to the party, eager to see the end, or his own, to free his family of Strahd's tyranny. With his help, the adventurers carried the final barrels of wine toward Krezk, where they were welcomed by the guards and Dmitri Krezkov, the Burgomaster. His wife Anna and he, both advanced in age, marked the passing of their daughter, Ilya, by covering the mirrors in their modest home in the wooded, gardened Krezk. After a meal and short rest, they checked on the Abbey that overlooks Krezk. There, they inspected the graves along its edge and were spotted by a figure of auburn hair and fair skin within.
as it w