Well hello you little dungeon monsters you. It’s Slick Dungeon back again with a little campaign diary for the ultimate RPG vampire Strahd Van Zarovich.
Before I go too far, fair warning that this has spoilers for The Curse of Strahd.
I am going to tell you how I prepared for the session, what happened in the session, and what I would change if I ran this again.
First, of course, I read the part of the book that deals with the Tser Pool Encampment and the Vistani that live there, including Madam Eva. This section also has a key element of the campaign, which is the Tarokka reading, basically a fortune telling section, that determines where key items, allies and enemies will be during the campaign. I rehearsed this several times. I was hoping to have it memorized enough that I could do the reading without having to refer to the book but, there are 54 cards, a whole lot of text and a ton of variations on how this reading could turn out. I did end up improvising but I at least had the layout memorized and was able to still make it feel pretty special to the players (I think).
I also took a look at the reddit thread here. There is a section on the Tarokka reading and while I did end up using all the cards, there were still some useful tips in there, especially if you have played this before. I also prepared some random encounters as the session involved a bit of travel. I tend to like to have my random encounters pre-rolled so that there is less flipping of pages on my part when combat breaks out. That doesn’t mean you have to do it that way, but if you want to be a little more organized in your prep, I recommend always rolling for encounters and random treasure ahead of time.
The Fifth Session
At the start of the session, Ismark was ready to take Ireena to the town of Vallaki, where he believes the Burgomaster can shelter her. Of course, he has never met the Burgomaster himself and is pretty protective of his sister, so complications will undoubtedly arise. On the way, the party encountered three Scarecrows. They were able to handle them quite easily, although they did set a small forest fire. They put it out though. Miles Adelard is still getting his magic under control but he was able to display its power pretty well this session. Lady Elarian is growing as a fighter and although her go to move is to just attack it with a long sword, she is learning to use some of the fighter mechanics to benefit her attacks.
After the Scarecrows were dealt with, they arrived at the Tser Pool encampment. The Vistani all greeted them warmly, as if welcoming long lost family. They invited the PC’s to tell a story at the campfire. Miles told what basically amounted to the story of Orpheus, especially as told through the musical Hades Town. I thought that was great as my players are very well versed in musical theater and there are references in one way or another to Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Little Shop of Horrors dotted into my campaign. Some references come from the book itself, so that’s going to be pretty fun as they discover these things.
Lady Elarian was much more tight lipped and Ismark and Ireena were more or less standoffish to the Vistani. At the end of the night, Madam Eva called the players into her tent.
Lady Elarian and Miles had woken up in a previous session to find the Sheperd and Anarchist cards in their possession after a dream was sent to them by Madam Eva. She first asked for them back and told them that she sent the cards because she felt they could help to free Barovia from Strahd. The players are pretty much just wanting to go home and Miles is pretty sure he can just have a rational conversation with Strahd to get out of there. Who knows, he might be right?
After a little bit of small talk and demands to know why they were there, Madam Eva did the Tarokka reading for them. I am going to spoil some locations of items here so if you happen to be a player, maybe don’t read this okay? Okay good.
- The Tome of Strahd – This will be in the Wizard of Wines Winery. This is pretty good because 1., in Vallaki the Martikovs have visiting the winery as a ready made quest. And 2. because in the next session I have some Blight encounters ready for the players which should nicely foreshadow their enemies.
- The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind – This will be found in Castle Ravenloft in one of the crypts under the “Mad dog”. While this is likely to be the hardest item of the bunch for the group to find, I’m pretty thrilled with how they were left wondering who or what the mad dog is. They have a dog with them and think maybe there is some connection there (there isn’t) but otherwise they have no clue.
- The Sunword – This will be in Rictavio’s wagon. This is in the town of Vallaki so it’s likely to be the first item they get. Rictavio is a false identity for another character in the story, so my only concern here is when and how to reveal Rictavio’s true agenda to the players, especially once they inevitably go routing through his stuff.
- The ally – The good news for the players is they already have her. Their ally is Ireena. Part of me is really excited about that because they feel like they accomplished something without even trying to do anything other than help people. But the other part of me is a little disappointed because that may mean one less NPC to get to meet down the road.
- Strahd – They will be meeting him at the tomb of his mother. The card was the raven and the reading mentioned that so now, they think almost anything raven related could lead them to him. That’s kind of fun because there is one heck of a lot of raven imagery in this campaign.
After the reading, they said their good nights and that’s where we ended the session. Next up should be the road to Vallaki and possibly getting into town and little bit of exploring. I’m looking forward to it because I feel like the campaign can really get going from here on out.
What I would do different
For this session, there are a few things I would change. It went relatively well though, so it’s not an overly extensive list.
- It was hard to memorize the whole Tarokka deck. If I had it to do over again, I would have practiced a lot more, to the point where I knew what each card represented and where the treasures were hidden without having to look. That’s a lot of memorization though so I’m not sure how practical it is. I also briefly considered stacking the deck but a. I don’t think I could pull off the slight of hand and b. this is the first time I am running this campaign so really anywhere they get off to will be interesting to me.
- This is not so much for this session but for previous ones. Madam Eva is a pretty major deal, so I think I would talk her up more in the town of Barovia next time and make it seem like it’s really hard to get to talk to her and that only a privileged few get to. I’d want to make her almost mythical before they meet her.
- Now, I didn’t know that they would intersect with Rictavio, but in reality he is a legendary vampire hunter in disguise. While Ismark definitely knows a dude named Rictavio rolled into town a few months ago, I feel like I want to talk up the vampire hunter side of his personality a lot more. As written in the module, in this section the Vistani talk about the Mad Mage of Mount Baratok. This is a really cool NPC and I hope my characters meet him, but they already knew a little bit about him. If I had this to do over again, I would instead have the Vistani and the Tser Pool encampment talk about Van Richten (the vampire hunter) instead. There will be more chances for him to be spoken of, but I feel like his reputation could easily have been bolstered, had I known for sure the players would likely encounter Rictavio. I think if I ever did a stacked card reading with him as an ally, I would absolutely do that. For this time, I don’t regret doing the story of the Mad Mage, but I also wish I had the vampire hunter in there.
I’ll be back next time to tell you if the characters make it to Vallaki and if anything interesting happens along the way.
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