Our heroes have battled their way into the Amber Temple, only to parley with one of the temple's guardians, Neferon. They've managed to convince the reformed fox-like fiend that they are not there to liberate the dark powers trapped within, and have gained his blessing to consult with Exethanter to see if he can assist.
Our dramatis personae:
Ser Adon de Rouge of House Starbright (a half-orc Paladin, from a knightly background, with two human retainers and a priest), played by Paul (dr_mitch). Lawful Good. Married to Ser Alys.
Kelwarin (Kel) (a half-elf Sorceror flush with the powers of wild magic, an outlander), played by Graham (First Age). Chaotic Good.
Gaddock Teeg (a halfling wizard and former prizefighter), played by Alex (Doggetay), Neutral Good
Ser Alys de Adon-Rouge of House Starbright (a half-orc Fighter with a soldier background, currently the leader of the town militia of Daggerford), played by Tom (Guvnor). Lawful Neutral. Imagine a slightly greener take on Grace Jones... Married to Ser Adon.
Ireena Kolyana (a human warrior, daughter of the Burgomaster of Barovia, Twice-Bitten reincarnation of Strahd's unrequited love, Tatyana) - upgraded as a sidekick.
Muriel Vinshaw (a member of the Keepers of the Feather, travelling with the party to repay them for rescuing her), a wereraven upgraded to a sidekick (yes, I know that breaks rules as she started at CR2 but frankly I don't care)!
All characters and sidekicks are level 8. This was the first game in a few sessions with all the players back.
18th December, Morning.
They left Neferon with his warning ringing in their ears; do not disturb the Dark Powers or - no matter how much I like you - I will be forced to destroy you. Ser Adon, Ser Alys and Kasimir the Dusk Elf went back towards the parts of the temple they'd already visited as they feared that the somewhat pitiful and dubious wanderer they'd found in the lecture hall, Vilnius, was up to no good and they wanted to prevent a situation arising with Neferon. They headed out across the vast, dark floor of the temple to the stairs they'd come down earlier.
The rest of the group, Muriel and Ireena along with the Mage Gaddock and Kelwarin the Sorcerer were shown a set of stairs ascending up into the darkness. Their lights reflected off the polished stone, and somehow the immensity of the darkness felt more. Neferon warned them that Exethanter wasn't quite what he used to be, but should be able to help them. Just mention his name, and they should be fine.
The stairs opened into a large chamber, well lit by floating magical lights, not unlike those that they'd seen before. The room was comfortably furnished with chairs, sofas and reading desks and tables. At the far side was a huge staircase spiralling downwards. Six large bookcases lined the walls, piled high with every form of book and scroll that you could imagine. Each bookcase had a fixed ladder, and it was only when their eyes followed the line of the ladders upwards they realised that there was a vast space in the mountain above hollowed out, and that the bookcases carried on up into the darkness. A few lights floated further up. A gentle snoring was coming from an armchair turned slightly to the side.
The warriors tracked back across the balcony, and through into the eastern chamber with the shaft that Gaddock had carefully avoided dropping anything down. Looking down, they could see flickering lights and hear some voices. More significantly, a rope and grappling hook had been secured to a light fitting on the wall and braced with some wood from the broken furniture they'd previously found in the room adjacent to the one where Roscoe Tosscobble had met his end. Ser Adon dropped a stone down, guessing that there was perhaps a 30 foot drop down. His eyes met his wife's and they silently agreed that they needed to go down and address whatever evil shenanigans was going on below. They grabbed hold of the rope and prepared to drop below.
The snoring came from a robed figure, who appeared to have dozed off reading a book. Cautiously Gaddock tapped the shoulder of the sleeper, using his magehand. It startled awake, looking around. "What, a new apprentice? What do you need boy?". The figure turned, fumbling for a pair of glasses which had fell to the floor. It - he? - turned towards Gaddock revealing a drawn face with tight skin and the bones obvious below the surface. The eyes were empty sockets burning with magical energy like s small star within. Gaddock patiently and calmly introduced himself, knowing full well what the creature before them could be. In return, Exethanter introduced himself, but muttered something about that not really being his name and asking Gaddock if he knew what his name really was. Gaddock demurred, but explained why they were there. Kel supported him. Exethanter told them to take seats, and magically tea and more cake appeared.
Landing awkwardly on his ankle, Ser Adon took in the seen around him. The chamber was lit by three flaming skulls which were agitatedly circling Vilnius. Vilnius was muttering words before a large, rough-cut amber block (perhaps five foot wide and deep, and eight feet high). He held an amulet of some form in front of him. A darkness came off it, whisp-like, swirling towards the sarcophagus in front of him where it connected to a dark form, not unlike a woman's shape, within. The tone of his chanting was raising. Something was keeping the skulls from acting as Neferon indicated that they would. As Ser Adon drew his blade, igniting it with radiant power, Ser Alys landed cat-like behind. Sensing extreme danger, and a darkness behind evil, Adon cut Vilnius down burning him with holy energy. The connection between the sarcophagus and the amulet broke. Adon and Alys heard an angry female voice in their head, offering them power and the chance to become an avatar to spread the power of the power contained within the amber, if they would just take up the amulet and free them. They looked at each other, and smashed the amulet. The skulls continued to circle as Kasimir landed below.
The conversation with Exethanter was revealing but deeply frustrating as it went around in circles; it seemed that there was something wrong with the mage's recollection, some kind of block on recent events. When he was distracted, he could forget who he was talking to, and yet his recollections of the past were clear. He recounted how Strahd had changed from a proud warrior prince to an older, angrier and more jealous man. This was prompted by seeing Ireena, who he insisted upon calling Tatyana. He was confused by her, as he could recall her jumping to her death when Strahd sealed his pact with the Dark Powers, slaying his brother and family and all those at the wedding feast for Sergei and Tatyana. He part blamed himself; he had missed that Strahd was exploring the knowledge of the Dark Powers they'd trapped within and forming a bond with Vampyr. He'd freed that power through the anger and bloodshed he'd spent slaying his family and retainers. Vampyr was freed, ripping Barovia into the Mists and empowering Strahd.
Kasimir asked the two warriors to protect him; this was the right place to complete the ritual to obtain a way to free his sister from Strahd's embrace in the crypt; he expected the flame skulls to react badly as he wasn't carrying an amulet. Reluctantly, the two warriors agreed. Kasimir started a dark chanting holding a silver and crystal vial in front of him. Instantly, one of the flaming skulls spat fire at him. Adon and Alys attacked the skulls. Kasimir continued to chant, oblivious to the fire licking him from his burning cloak. It was short and brutal. The skulls fell under the concentrated power of the two warriors, the last one blasting them all with a fireball. As they picked themselves up, Kasimir groaned; he looked older and drawn. In his hand was a vial with a black shimmering powder or liquid. He looked at them, and explained that with this, they could free his sister Patricia, who Strahd had long since imprisoned in the catacombs. There had been a cost on his part to obtain this; he looked diminished, somehow.
Gaddock and Kel asked Exethanter about freeing the Fanes and asked could there be a way to do so. The archmage nodded in agreement; he headed to a stack and stood on the ladder. With a word of command, the ladder whisked him up into the darkness. A floating lantern followed him and they could just make out that he was pulling out volumes from the shelves, using a mage hand to reach them from the ladder. Exethanter returned down, and repeated the action on a few more shelves. Soon Gaddock had a pile of books and scrolls to study in front of him; Exethanter warning him that the protections in the temple would not allow books to be removed and told the wizard that he'd have to make his own notes instead. Gaddock looked excited at the opportunity to find out more. Kel looked bored. He asked Exethanter about Castle Ravenloft, and whether there were plans her. Exethanter mentioned that the architect used to stay here before that terrible accident. There weren't plans, but there was a scale model. Kel, Ireena and Muriel asked Exethanter to show them where it was. He agreed to point them in the right direction.
Kasmir exited the crypt using a misty step spell, whereas Alys and Adon took the longer route, climbing up the ladder. As Adon recovered the rope and grappling hook, he realised that they were his own. It appeared that Vilnius had stolen it when they were resting up after the battle with the Amber Golem. They decided that they needed to rest and recover, and more importantly keep out of Neferon's way as they may well have broken the one restriction that he placed on them. Kasimir looked happy, but drawn. He walked like an old man, something that neither of the half-orcs associated with Elves. They took refuge in the room with Roscoe Tosscobble's corpse, trying to keep warm and planning their escape with their friend's body.
Exethanter took the three adventurers out through his chambers, and onto the ruined balcony above where they'd eaten with Neferon earlier. He pointed out a door on the wall and told them that it was 'through there', and not to disturb anything, or to provoke his former colleagues. He also told them to call out for him and wait to be collected rather than coming straight back into his rooms. After perhaps 30 minutes of searching rooms that included a banquet, a burnt corpse and more, and a pretty intimidating overwatch by flaming skulls, they found the model of the castle. There wasn't much detail of the crypts, but they took the time to familiarise themselves in case it helped later.
Meanwhile, Gaddock was deep in study when Exethanter arrived back. He broke off reading and gifted Exethanter the book that Strahd had given him written by the architect, describing his transformation to a lich. Exethanter skimmed through it, then looked at Gaddock. "You're right you know. I have all they symptoms of being a Lich, but I cannot find the soul bottle, nor remember ever being anything but this. It's most unsatisfactory, not knowing." He then looked at Gaddock and asked if he could tell him his true name, because with that he could unlock what happened. Gaddock explained he didn't know it. Exethanter said he wished his old friend Neferon had come back from his travels, he'd been away for years. Gaddock gently reminded Exethanter that Neferon was back and had been for some time. The Lich harrumphed and poured more tea before returning to his book. After a moment, he reminded Gaddock that he'd be welcome to stay and join the Order to protect all this knowledge. There'd be a chance to study and learn and do something worthwhile. Gaddock declined, again. He returned to taking notes on how to free the Fanes and how to summon Vampyr and bind him back into amber.
GM Notes: Lots of talk and hunting for answers. A dangerous game in a crypt. Secrets and lore on how to free the Fanes and also how to bind Vampyr (because Strahd will not die if they fail this). The three members of the party who studied the castle will each gain an instance of advantage if they link they activity back to they study they did here when they're in the castle. Another nominally evil creature (lich) that isn't. Now I need to write up some lore...
17 September 2022