In this fortnight’s episode we review Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, and then put characters from our Dragons of Tirenia setting through the Dark Lord Generator! OooOOOOoooo, SpoooOOOOoooky! Check it out: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/45076235
Below is the continuation of the adventures of Dirwin, my 13th level Druid, who has been around since the end of 2014 in various guises. It has been nine months between the first half of this episode and the second half! But I am so relieved to be back to journaling Dirwin’s story. Next week or so I will work on recategorising this site so it is easier to navigate to all the different sections: Devblog, Dragonlance, different D&D character diaries, and all the other things we’ve done over the years!
Coming out of Seshall’s case, I look at the word ‘Sign’ on the scrap of a diary entry. Could it mean Sign of One? Their faction hall is rumoured to hold a gate to the Beastlands. We go to find our tout Kaiakos again to follow-up on the three names listed on that paper too.
At an intersection on the way back, we see crows pecking at a corpse on a gibbet. Then they start attacking the crowd! I try to speak with them in raven form and calm them but it fails. So instead I open my decanter of endless water and control it, splashing them to douse their wings. The people are grateful to be safe now but many are injured, and one is even dead. I offer to reincarnate him, to the tiefling crying over the body of the half-elf, but it turns out he was a petitioner visiting from Arborea, so his soul is gone forever! How frightening.
But for the other people I am able to give small amounts of healing out, and regenerate one person’s lost eye. One guy doesn’t want healing, and his suspicion seems to be related to his alignment with the Revolutionary League and not trusting authority. A little old lady panics, saying she has no way of paying her. I tell her no worries, it’s free. She is grateful then, asks my name, gives me her talisman of Thor’s Hammer, and tells me to run along in case the Harmonium don’t take too kindly to my unlicensed healing.
We flee, and take Kaiakos out to lunch with us. He helps us with two of the things listed on the paper. The Planar Trade Consortium is a huge web of capitalist transaction, and has a branch here on the planes. The Cup of Freedom is a landmark in Sigil – a free library run by the Revolutionary League. Knowledge is the key to throwing off the shackles of oppression, or so they say. Kaiakos says he’ll follow up on Parts and Pieces, as he doesn’t know this one, but his other tout friends might.
On the way to the library, we see a halfling preaching on two soapboxes, saying that it is good that people are acting on instinct. Obviously from the Transcendent Order. Not sure how I could explain to him how unnatural this whole chaos is.
Arriving at the library, the bauriur librarian, Firey Polk, greets me as comrade. The library is chaotic, and Polk, good-humoured and intense, seems to want a donation before he’ll help me. I’m happy to contribute to the cause. He remembers Seshall coming here, and what books he was reading, so he pulls me out ‘The Dark World of Dreams’, ‘Turt’s Guide to Planar Cats’, and ‘The Big Book of Evil’. Books go sliding and flying everywhere during his chaotic search.
It’s hard to understand why he wanted these books. The first does mention dreamhunters from Bast’s realm on Ysgard who chase down nightmares. And yet Bast lives on Arborea, I hear. Polk mentions to me that people are blaming the Revolutionary League for the current unrest, which makes him unhappy, since it is unfounded.
Returning to Kaiakos, he has found the info we needed about P&P. It stands for Parts and Pieces, a shop in the Great Bazaar, which is through a gate whose key was rats’ teeth. The proprietor is Seamusxanthuszenus (I really did not know what to expect with a name like that) and yes, the Parts and Pieces were what I feared – body parts.
The Great Bazaar is, as always, a treat for all the senses. I see efreet unpacking literal lava lamps at a stall; a sign above a food cart made of sparrows flying and forming the word ‘EATZ’; a beautiful feathered woman protesting against the Harmonium; ancient children; a Beholder with a judge’s wig on each eyestalk borne on a palanquin carried by the eye beams of two other beholders, the rider on which shoots tiny lasers at the feet of any who get too close; bottles of colourful smoke, and much more.
We find the sign by the archway of the gate, and to my relief, there is already a bowl full of rat teeth by the gate. Through the portal, we enter a dimly lit and reeking corridor. An amateur sign written by an unhinged mind proclaims Seamusxanthuszenus as the purveyor of death, and lists his stock, which counts among other not-so-savoury offerings stuffed naga, a nightmare’s head, and other gore.
The proprietor turns out to be a dust mephit, which is somehow still surprising to me even after all the surprises I’ve had today. After A LOT of preamble, I slide multiple generous garnishes over to him to fish for information about Sashell and why he came here. It turns out he was interested in some of Seamus’s suppliers, specifically a group of them who carried the same triangular symbol as I have found, who wear red and green furs, and most recently brought in the tentacles of a Varth, the wings of a varguyle, and liquified farastu – all of which, I realise, hail from Carceri. Seashell had also been asking for something to protect himself from cats. Seamus tried to swindle him with the fangs of a hydra or some such, saying they were the fangs of the Lord of Cats.
I end up buying the nightmare’s head, since it is still alive (for a given value, sentient is perhaps a better way of putting it). Seamus throws in three quills and a feather, and opens the way out for us – which I suppose would not have opened had we not made a purchase! After listening to the skull berate us, and try to sell us off as “two used idiots” as soon as we returned to the Bazaar, Toledo and I made the executive decision to stick him on top of a post in the marketplace where he could become something of an annoying landmark. I guess I can’t save them all!
With a new 5th edition Ravenloft book coming out next month, we thought it was high time we did another Ravenloft episode. This time we go deep on the metaplot of Ravenloft during it’s main run in 2nd edition, and give our Top 5 adventures/supplements that can still be found on DriveThruRPG, though the Top 5 sort of turns into a Top 20, sorta. SPOILERS, like ALLLLLL the way through the episode! If you think you’re going to be a player in any of these 2nd edition metaplot events ever, maybe skip this episode.
Also sorry about the recording quality. I really messed up with the recording this time, but with some Audacity magic I was able to make it somewhat listenable. Sorry for it being a bit sub-quality though.
Today on the podcast we delve into a very interesting setting! I wonder when we’ll play a game set here? Check out the episode here: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/43032994
We’ve been meaning to do this one for a while, so here it is: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/43032967
Let us know if it helped you in anyway, or there’s anything you disagree with. Also we’re keen to hear any tips that have helped you!
We have more Dragonlance news!
There is a press release here on enworld.org which says that for the first time in a decade, there will indeed be a new Dragonlance novel, as we have been speculating for the last couple of months! Written by the original authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the book will apparently be called Dragons of Despair.
This adds a lot more fuel to the fires of our speculation! We’ve been wondering for a while now whether the rumoured novel would be a reboot, or a fresh entry following on chronologically from where the last novels left off. While a large part of us feels like surely they wouldn’t do a reboot, the name “Dragons of Despair” is actually the name of the first adventure module of the original Dragonlance run! So… maybe it is a reboot after all?
This could be a welcome opportunity to change some of the more egregiously 80s things that were in the original series (a whole race of dwarves with learning difficulties that are the butt of every joke, for example). That idea also gives credence to the rumour that Weis and/or Hickman got upset over changes they were being asked to make, with some sources alleging that they were upset with the “PC” direction Wizards of the Coast were asking them to take.
Whatever the truth of that situation was, we’re glad that the novel is going ahead. James has been a huge fan since a very young age, and since talking about it here and on our podcast, many other people have commented to say it was a big part of their lives too. So for everyone’s sake, we’re hoping this will be exciting, regardless of which direction they are taking.
What do you reckon? Would you prefer a reboot, or a continuation of existing continuity? Let us know here, or hit us up on our Twitter where we are also discussing Dragonlance a lot. And there’s also our Discord too!
Today we cover the ubiquitous Forgotten Realms. Often considered the generic kitchen sink of settings, we go into why it isn’t just that, covering its history, recommending some books and games to get into, and doing a retrospective of our most Forgotten Realms campaign experience, Storm King’s Thunder.
So Dirwin’s back in Planescape now! What was that Ravenloft chapter all about? Does this have anything to do with the Great Modron March? Let’s see…
Something’s following me out of my mind. It takes the shape of a great shadowy cat. Is this the black cat I saw crossing the mill bridge, in another form?
I’m back in my case. Toledo’s standing over me, her face neutral, but her body language reading surprise. She’s been helping care for me, Marja and Word. Every animal, druid, and wereperson in Sigil has gone insane. I have no time to stop and think about my good friend. If he got out, he’s somewhere out there. If not, the current situation is more important for now anyway.
I take the time to warm up and speak to Word. He’s barely there, though he has moments of lucidity. He’s muttering kill, maim, blood, things like that. I can hear birds outside saying it, and cranium rats whispering in the walls. All of them are mad. Marja’s barely holding together. But I’ve fought my way out of my madness. I grab Toledo by the shoulder. ‘We’ve got to get to the Beastlands! That’s what Merka was hinting at.’
Leaving the other two to look after each other, we start out, but my stomach cramps horribly. Toledo points out that I haven’t eaten in two days, so we change direction and head for the Garden Gnome. On the way we see a taxi driven by a mezoloth, and pulled by Arcadian ponies. Even they are muttering horrible murderous words.
At the Garden Gnome things are just as I expect to see, vegan food travelling around on the little gnomish-made conveyor belt, lampshades of all kinds hanging from the ceiling, barely any walls to interrupt the indoor-outdoor flow. There’s my devil friend I play chess with, playing with a flumph now. As we wait for our orders, Toledo tells me some recent gossip. The Ciphers and the Godsmen have allied for some reason, and the Sensates are having internal problems between those who favour pure sensation and those (like myself) who err on the side of experience and understanding.
A large suit of armour with a two-headed dog leashed to it walks in. The voice from within the armour is squeaky, as he announces rewards for information about some wanted men, and announces himself as Blandermal, who can be found at the Woodsmen’s Retreat. A Mercykiller then. The wanted posters that he sticks up name Ankus the gith assassin, Picand Four-teeth the cannibal bauriur, and Hochur the Foul, a bladeling with black-dyed spikes.
After he leaves, I feel someone’s eyes on me from across the street. I meet the eyes, and he approaches. He is filthy, lank black hair and foul smelling breath. He raves at me, something about things coming out of black triangles and devouring your spirit, a slumbering lamb, the hidden journal, find it, they’re coming from the prison to get him. As he pulls out a black triangular pendant to show me, he slumps into my lap, an arrow sticking out of his back.
I can’t spot the shooter, so I pull him to cover and start healing him. Toledo steps back too, unable to see who shot. But then the man in my arms twists and grows and his black hair lightens to orange as he turns into a tiger. I wrestle him down with Toledo’s help.
We’ve barely managed this when the Harmonium show up. As they arrest the weretiger I pocket the pendant which has fallen off him. I ask if they’ll look after him, as it’s not his fault he attacked. I tell them I’m going to fix the problem with all the animals. Drethel Fortinarb is the officer, and he’s pretty jaded. He’s had to arrest quite a few animals of course. But I needn’t panic about my weretiger friend. All the druid lawyers have gone mad too, so none of the animal cases are being tried right now. Safe in the knowledge that bureaucracy will hold everything up quite nicely, Toledo and I set out to try and find our way to the Beastlands again.
Then she points out she thinks she knows the name Slumbering Lamb. It’s a place, she reckons. So we go to the nearest tout, a tiefling who is not unfamiliar to us, name of Kaiakos, who has an extra set of crab-like arms, and an eladrin spouse. After some small talk, and a garnish to seal the deal, he points us to the Slumbering Lamb. On the way there, I break up two fighting bauriur. They had no idea why they had started fighting, but I explain, and tell them to go home and rest as much as they can.
On Formean Road we find the Slumbering Lamb. A tiefling landlady opens the door. Before we can even explain why we’re here, she starts whinging about Sashell, we’re not here about Sashell are we, there have been so many people enquiring about him today and she ought to charge him more, because she reckons he’s a weretiger. Well, now we have a name. I tell her he’s been arrested and I’m here to retrieve something for him. As I haggle with her I can see she is dishonest, so for 5 gold I get her to let me his room. I pack everything up for safe keeping, knowing she’ll just throw it all out and let the room to someone else even after I paid her. In the pig sty of a room, I find two interesting things. The first is a painted tiger mask with divination magic on it.
The second is his journal, which Toledo and I have to reorder as the pages have been spread all over the room. As time goes on, it grows more and more incoherent. There are entries hinting at chasing small prey and being pursued by a giant shadowy cat. Could it be the same as what I just saw chasing me? There’s more about shapes coming out of triangles, bars becoming fangs, devouring life forces out of shining bowls. There’s also a yellow note pasted in with different handwriting. It has a list of names. Three of them are the three wanted men. Is this important?
Last month James and I played Ravenloft II. What’s that, you ask? Well, after the success of the original Ravenloft, the writer was asked to catch lightning in a bottle again, and produced the bizarre sequel which brings Strahd von Zarovich back… or is it really him? James and I would joke about it over the years as something that sounded sort of hacky, but then we saw it was available on Drive Thru RPG as print on demand, so we bought it. James had a read and decided not only did this actually fit weirdly well with where Dirwin was going… but he really wanted to do it! So after years of us treating it like a joke, like how Doctor Who always meets the Master no matter how dead he seemed last time we saw him, we did it!
In the end, our findings were this. This campaign would probably only be playable in a very slim set of circumstances (which Dirwin just happened to meet). Also we got really nice Mary Shelleyesque vibes from the whole thing, and then we REALLY started shipping Dirwin and good guy Strahd as a thing. It was one of the best roleplaying experiences we’ve had because it was actually super gothy and romantic. Now I mean really, that stuff is DM-player insert stuff, but the writer of Ravenloft II has done a good job at setting up the atmosphere. We also inserted the module Howls in the Night in the middle, which also had a great atmosphere too!
Here is the playlist we listened to for the campaign. Sorry the journal is all in one big lot, but I didn’t get around to transcribing it until recently. Life has gotten a wee bit busy!
Is it a dream? I find myself back at the chapel. You know which one. But this time Esmerelda doesn’t intervene. This time, Donavich doesn’t intercede. Euphrates is the first to die, caged in by the animated pews and lecterns. Marja is impaled, and Word too, thrown onto a fallen candelabra. Godfrey tries to hold him off, but when he dies too, there are no more resurrections.
I go into croc form. He catches me. Ireena is watching. She’s smiling.
He bites me.
Then I wake. I feel so unbearably weak. A woman’s voice: ‘Dr Irving?’
I open my eyes. Is that Toledo? No, it’s a human woman. Or did I manage to change to change her form already? No, this is a serving maid, says her name is Tallie. She calls me Dr Irving again.
Donavich walks into the room. No, not Donavich. He says his name is Dr d’Honaire, and he is my colleague. Stephen, he calls me. We are psychologists at this sanatorium by the sea.
I asked what happened, and he says I came in from a thunderstorm, raving, and I‘ve been unconscious for near on a week. Where did I come from, I ask. The house of my friend, Strahd von Zarovich, he says. The house on Gryphon Hill.
I stiffen, trying to hide my reaction. Another Donavich here, another Strahd? Then Marja’s double walks into the room. Not quite, she’s human too, and called Mary. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, berating me for galavanting in thunderstorms and getting sick. I ask her if she has a canine companion. She is surprised, but answers in the affirmative. What’s his name, I ask, holding my breath. Lex, she says. I want to laugh, or cry. What is going on?
She permits me a walk outside, though I am chilly and sweaty at the same time, and still horribly weak. Then I see past the ruse for a moment. Razorleaf, the city bending above me impossibly. It passes. A patient called Cyrus starts raving about the master coming. Of course he is. The name Strahd rings in my ears still. What did he mean, my friend?
I nearly faint, so Mary… Marja… Mary takes me back to my room and insists I rest. I ask her, did Dr d’Honaire have a son? Did he die? She confirms it. Again, I feel such dread.
Inside the room, my room, so they call it, in my sanatorium, I search for answers. Does Sigil really exist? Who am I? I try writing Dirwin by carving it into the underside of the wooden desk in the room. It blurs before my eyes and it reads Irving.
What does it all mean? Where am I? There is glass in the windows… in every window! I’ve never seen such extravagance before.
A letter on my desk… Irving’s desk. I recognise the writing. I read it.
My dear friend, Please hasten to meet me when you have recovered. I too have been ill after that night when we last met. We must discuss what happened, and try to solve the mystery of the house on Gryphon Hill! With utmost regard, Strahd von Zarovich
What does it all mean? How can this be happening? On my desk I find two items I’ve had my whole life, since my childhood with Grandfather Croc. Two wooden toy soldiers. But now I notice something about them that I’ve somehow never realised. They’re two opposing pawns from a game. How did I not see this before?
I had a good sleep. Breakfast with d’Honaire. He admits he heard me raving in my week long stupor, and offers me mesmerism to try and unfold the mysteries of my memory loss. I take him up on the offer. He is surprised. Apparently before this I was dismissive of his interest in hypnotism. I apologise for that.
In the corridor outside, I see Ismark. No, his name is Bath Kleinen. He’s an orderly. But I can see in his eyes he knows more. I try to question him, ask him if he’s dreamed of other worlds too. He avoids my questioning.
I tell Mary I’m going for a constitutional, and may I borrow her dog. She permits me. Lex is a lovely robust wolfhound, but too dull to be Word in another guise. I try to speak to him, but he just tips his head to the side. We walk around town, and I get acquainted with the harbour town of Mordentshire.
I see people in the town who look like people I know. I swear I see Dandy and Kazi, but they’re human-sized, and married, and running a bookstore. I buy some books there about local history, geography and peerage. I go down to the wharf, hoping not to see a familiar lobster there. By the river there’s a mill that’s not working, and a black cat and a little girl walking away. In the market, the spitting image of Nanny Ethel sells grain and calls herself Ray. She tells me she’s worried about her friend, the smith’s wife Aida. I go to visit, and she tells me the problem is her husband, who never leaves the upstairs rooms and has boarded up all the windows.
I go up to investigate. Lex is growling. Alwin, the smith, sits in the dark. Tells me he’s fine, tells me to leave. I try to keep him talking, but eventually he stands, takes his hammer up, and lashes out at me. ‘You are the author of all this, are you not, Doctor?’ I leave, not ready yet to cause a scene and bring my full powers to bear. Can I still bring my full powers to bear? I tell Aida to leave the house and live with other family for the time being.
I look for the church, just north of town according to the map in the book I have, but it is a smoldering ruin. The priest in his cottage refuses to see me. Blames me? Blames me and Strahd?
I return to the sanitarium to prepare for lunch, and find a letter inviting me to Heather House for lunch with Strahd and the Weathermay family. Full of trepidation, I begin the short journey south to the top of the cliffs. On the way I see squirrels in the trees. I try to speak to one. Is it stopping and talking back? It seems almost to do so, but not quite.
I reach the house, knowing already some of the faces to expect. I did not expect Ezmerelda, or now Mistress Ardent, now a servant in this grand house. She ushers me in to the dining room, where yes, there is Ireena, or Tatiana, or rather Virigina Weathermay. There is Lord Weathermay, with the face of the mayor of the village of Barovia. And there, now coming to embrace me, now embracing me with warm, alive arms, Strahd von Zarovich himself, smiling.
Genuinely, warmly smiling. This is a friend. I can feel no other feeling on seeing him now. Is it possible I have managed to call, from somewhere in the infinite planes, another version of Strahd who I can redeem to the side of good? Perhaps a Strahd who needs no redemption of mine? Or is this some folly of my brain, perhaps a last long hallucination as I die some unexpected death? I almost welcome it, the chance to rewrite one of my greatest failures.
We sit down to lunch. Virginia is pale. She is ill. I dread to think why. I know why. But Strahd is surely not the cause. They are engaged now. Can this Strahd be finally about to achieve his Tatiana for good? But will he, if what I suspect is making her ill is in fact true?
When we have some time after lunch to speak privately, I find Strahd as confused as myself as to the events of the last week. He too had a dream, he says, that he was watching some hideous version of himself ruling over a land that feared him, and he had to watch with disgust and dread this facsimile of himself consuming the life of the populace, and fighting a version of me dressed in lizard hides. I tell him I too had this dream, that I was this Dirwin. That I still think I am Dirwin, and Dr Stephen Irving is the unreal one. I ask him what he remembers, and it would seem he belongs in this world, unlike me. He recalls something more than I do of the night we both fell ill, and that is this: we fled the house on Gryphon Hill, having done something, or unlocked something, far more terrible than our minds could handle. I think it highly wise to invite him to the hypnotism tonight with Dr d’Honaire. I read the books I bought as I await the evening’s diversions.
We arrive in the smoking room and Dr d’Honaire is there in the darkness, his pendulum at the ready. He is eager to begin.
He puts us both into a relaxed state, one where we should, he says, be more suggestible. “Where are you?” he asks. Before I know it, I am speaking.
“I am floating above the ground. Fog slowly spins me across the moors. The stars no longer burn in the sky, though somehow they should. There is a castle… or a building… its jaws open to devour me! I scream as I look down its throat filled with lightning and death! I am devoured, yet alive. I cannot see… the lightning again flashes. The room is alive with power. I see where I am…”
“What do you see?”
Strahd’s mouth opens as mine is stilled. “I stand before my own grave.”
“Please describe this place,” the doctor urges.
“Towering steel holds the world in place,” I continue. “Lightning pierces my soul and tears me in twain. I see myself twice. One, dark and terrible, the other, light and powerless. Good people mill about me, yet their ways are strange. I search for the circle whose eyes sees the truth of men’s souls…”
“Where is it? Where is this circle?”
Strahd speaks up again. “In the warm heart of love’s rest does the eye remain secure.”
“What is happening about you now?”
This time Strahd speaks for a while. “Then, from among the familiar faces of strangers comes the Great One… darkness within darkness, death beyond death. My life falls from me as he drinks it with unquenched thirst. His crimson lips stretch wide in a snarl of evil delight. His voice, the thunder of the crackling lightning…”
“What does he say?” d’Honaire almost shouts, his left hand white, gripping the end of the arm of the chair.
This time words erupt from my mouth. “Robbed! Cheated! The life which was mine by right, stolen from me by the Law Above! I spurn that law! I shall have my life back! I defy the gods!”
“What do you do?”
I continue, “I wrest myself from his grasp and seek to flee the chamber. The doors have all shifted and gone away. A book calls to me and offers me life. The lightning freezes the dark and I stumble in the darkness towards a shining book…”
“Where do you find this book?”
“Atop an altar formed of a griffin,” I reply.
“What does the book say?”
Strahd speaks, “The book tells a tragic tale of defiance in the face of divine justice. Yet something of its wisdom is incomplete and I know I must search further. I climb up a well of tangled thorns. I weaken and slow, though the top is neat. Now I see a figure in the opening above… it reaches for me…”
“Can you describe it? Describe the figure!”
I nearly scream in reply, “It is the Dark One himself! His hands seize me. My life again begins to slip from my soul.”
“By all that’s great!” d’Honaire exclaims, then gathers himself. “What do you do?”
I answer, “I run! I run without moving. My steps are mired in the soft ground and move in unreal motion. I stumble to the edge of a crevice. Friends, whose faces are filled with loathing and hate, stare up at me. A circled band hangs before me. I reach for it and the inscription burns…”
“Read it! What does the inscription say?”
Strahd replies, “Soft as the pillow of love’s rest shall my healing give hope to those forsaken.”
d’Honaire mops his brow, and continues, “What do you do with the Ring?”
“The ring blazes with brilliant light,” Strahd murmurs, “the torn book in my hands mends itself and now I can see where lies the terrible truth of this land. I cannot speak it! Yet I know where next I must go to find the truth…”
“Where is this Truth?”
“In the folds of love’s arms,” Strahd responds, “Yet I cannot reach the key! The darkness falls about me… I smother… I am dying…”
“What do you do with the Truth?”
This time I speak. “I flee down twisting halls as the light from the dying torches fails. The darkness behind me, pursuing me… devouring me! There! Ahead lies the key!”
“Where is this Key to the Truth?”
The two of us speak in concert, “Where all began… though cannot end.”
We are all exhausted by the experience. I want to speak more but Strahd must return to Heather House, and d’Honaire is worried, seems almost frightened of me now. So I retire to bed now, haunted and unsatisfied.
Walking the grounds this morning, I hear a scream. I run towards it. A man, back contorted, throws off Mary. I wrestle him to the ground (I seem to still have that talent of Dirwin’s!). “Thieves!” he screams at my face. “Murderers! Where are the children?” I realise that this is no mere madness. He is really yelling at me. What did Strahd and I do?
As the orderlies take him away to be sedated, I ask Mary if she is all right, and then I ask her where I came from on that stormy night. She says I stumbled in from the east. Above us to the east looms Gryphon Hill. Could it have been there?
I ask Mary further questions. Yes, she has noticed a personality change in the orderly Bath Kleinen. In fact, she has noticed other people’s personalities that have changed, and she gives me a list of names that I might follow up on later. But for now, I must lunch at Heather House.
Alas! Virginia has taken a turn for the worst! She is more pale, more listless than yesterday. I speak quietly with Strahd about it being signs of the Creature we know as Vampire. We agree to look further into this later today, and go down to the market to see what is happening there with the list of names I have… and perhaps to buy some garlic if we can find it. We take Lex with us.
But in the market we are interrupted by the ringing of bells. The mayor calls a meeting in the market square. There has been a killing in the moors, not an unusual occurrence at night, but this time the death happened in the day. The legendary moorhounds have grown bolder! The mayor gathers all able men, a body fifty strong, and Strahd and I commit ourselves to the cause, unwilling to shirk our communal duty.
We march northeast out of town to find the body of a shepherd and all his flock, throats torn out. Beside the body we see a mud and straw doll of a hound, but then an ill wind kicks up and blows it to pieces.
I have had enough of feeling powerless against these ill omens. Part of me is saying I am not Dirwin, I don’t have the abilities I have earned over the years, but part of me insists I am, I am! So I dig deep in myself and reach out to communicate with the elemental spirit of the land around me. It works! I am connected, I am myself again. I sense the presence of undead , many down in the village, and one here in the crowd, disguised as Kidar Kleinen, Bath’s brother, a town guard. I reach out to feel the lay of the land around me and sense a large house to the southeast. Coming out of my trance, I learn it is Wescote Manor.
Strahd rises from examining the body of the deceased to report what he knows of Wescote Manor. Folks say that one hundred years ago there was a marriage arranged between Ann Campbell, a maiden of a rival family, and Burton Wescote, the heir of the Wescote family. He was eager for it, but she was not, so much so that she tried to run away the night before the wedding. Burton’s brother tried to stop her, and she killed him and fled into the moors. Burton gave chase with his dogs. No one knows what happened in the bog, except that Burton said he chased her until she began to sink into the bog, and she refused his help and died. The Campbells left Mordentshire, and the Wescotes began to die off one by one in mysterious circumstances. Something happened to the dogs too, but it is unclear what. All that is known is that howls and reports of moorhounds abound, and they are known to rip the entrails out of shepherds and other victims they find on the moors at night.
And now during the day too, it seems. We are organised by the mayor into groups to search the moors. I finagle Strahd and myself into the same group as Kidar and three other men, to keep an eye on him. We begin to walk the moors in a line, methodically. Once we are well out of earshot of the other groups of men, Lex begins to whine, and then the moorhounds attack out of nowhere!
They are made of mud and straw and their eyes burn with unholy fire, and their teeth… well, their teeth rip to piece our companions. Strahd, Lex and myself manage to survive. I examine Kidar, but he just seems a normal man now. How strange. I tell Strahd of my awakening into my powers as Dirwin now, and I prove it by transforming into a raven, and by talking to Lex (who is a good boy, but definitely not Word). Using another of my powers, I feel the safe path through the boggy moors to Wescote Manor, so we begin heading there.
Howls resound again and we begin to run, until Strahd becomes trapped in a bit of boggy mud and starts sinking. I draw all the moisture out of the ground into a muddy sphere, and Strahd is able to clamber out of the remains of the now dry mud.We hear a scream ahead, and running to the source, find an old man about to become victim to the moorhounds. We attack them, and I use the sphere of muddy water, which seems quite efficient at whirling them to pieces.
The man is Douglas Michaels, a servant at the manor, and he leads us there. He advises us to not panic when we meet his master, for it is Burton Wescote himself, who has never aged a day due to the curse laid on him by Ann Campbell. We find the manor house semi-ruined, certain rooms in the front given over to decay and attacks from the hounds, while the rest of the house has been defended. The grounds are still nice though. Using mending on Strahd’s part, and druidcraft on mine, we brush each other down and prepare to see the master of the house.
Sir Burton Wescote greets us amiably. He is still indeed a young man. His staff, however, were all aged. There is a room we aren’t allowed to enter in the ground floor, but Douglas tells us it contains the ruins of the wedding presents!
Over dinner, Sir Burton explains to us that after Ann killed his brother and ran off into the night, he sent his dogs and ran after her to try to stop her from running into any dangerous spots. He saw her sink and tried to save her. The dogs all died, and the kennels are in despair. I notice in the dining room there seems to be a missing portrait, and I wonder if there is a reason for that.
After dinner, in the guest room, Strahd and I check in with each other’s impressions. I talk to Lex, and he seems fine with Burton, so he’s not undead I suppose. I confer with nature around me, and it is confirmed. So what is going on? Strahd theorizes that the tableau of a ruined wedding downstairs suggests that a symbolic wedding may need to take place. We settle in for the night.
At 3am, Lex whines and wakes us, followed by a knock on our door from Burton, who asks us to behold the nightly phenomenon. Outside, we see an apparition of a woman being chased by dogs! But what is chasing them? We are sent back to bed, but I tell Strahd I will learn more, and I fly out as a giant owl, and he rides on my back.
Below us we see the moor hounds baying around the bog where the apparition of the woman is now sinking, and we see the other person in the apparition is Sir Burton! But I fly too low, and a moorhound attacks! I manage to escape its jaws, and we fly straight back to the house. Discussing what little we saw in the safety of the house, we both admit we did not see enough to know if Wescote was telling the truth about trying to save her.
In the morning Wescote is nowhere to be found, and the maid Gabrielle tells us this is always the case in the morning. She also tells us that others have tried to end the curse and have failed, and all of them have been taken by the bog. I am quietly confident we won’t suffer the same fate. Asking further about Burton’s morning ritual, she says he always walks out on the bog, so once she has gone, I tell Strahd I will go and spy on our host, and leave in raven form.
I get a bad feeling as I fly over the bog. I see something happening in the same spot where we were attacked last night, so I move closer. There is an open grave, and a corpse just standing there. I move closer yet, and it beckons to me. It is Ann Campbell! I land and transform before her, and she seems to reconstitute, almost coming to life before me.
She tells me her version of events. That she didn’t kill the brother, that Wescote pursued her with ill intent and laughed as she sank into the bog. Bring him here, she asks me. She decays before me, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I believe neither of them is lying to me, but what can that mean?
Back at the manor, Strahd and I explore, since Burton still hasn’t shown himself. We visit boarded up rooms and basements and ballrooms and such, finding only that everything is frozen as if waiting for the wedding to happen, and the missing portrait is just a normal, completely mundane portrait of Burton. Perhaps he took it down as he didn’t want to look at his own face, never changing.
There is only one place in the house we have not been yet, and that is a locked study where we assume Burton must surely be. So we pick the lock and go in to find him lying on a chaise, groaning. He is ill, there is a bucket beside him for his sick. He doesn’t notice us, so wracked by some stomach illness is he. Over the fireplace is a portrait of Ann, and the words of the curse she laid on him. It all becomes clear now. “Bog take you and keep you.” The bog water keeps him alive.
We announce ourselves, and he is slightly angry, but too sick to care. We call him out on it: he’s been drinking bog water. Why? The curse, of course. The bog is keeping him alive, as much as it’s making him sick. I tell him that Ann told me to bring him to her, and he decides that is what we shall do, tonight.
When the appointed hour comes, all three of us go out together. Ann and Burton face each other after all these years, and Strahd and I try to negotiate between them. I tell them that they have both told me their events, but neither of them seems to be lying. This can only mean one thing: so much time has passed, and emotions were so high that night, that there is no real objective truth anymore. Ann was a young woman, terrified of an unwanted marriage, in the house of her enemies, and finally, dying in a most horrible fashion. Burton had just lost his brother, not knowing where the guilt truly lay. Both of them were suffering under heightened emotions, and interpreted events differently from each other. The two of them seem to accept this, and both finally seem to get some bit of peace from this.
And that is when the Moorhound attacks! The greatest of the beasts, it tears Burton’s throat out before we could stop it, but then we put it down for good. It is the last vestige of the curse. Ann holds Burton’s body as he dies, and both of them fade from view. We return to the house to tell the servants what has occured, and gain some much needed sleep.
We return to Mordent with the servants, who are bringing an assemblage of furniture and goods to sell from the manor. Strahd is in high spirits. We have ended one curse, so perhaps we can end more without too much cost.
Tragedy! We reach Heather House to find it in full mourning. All our hopes are dashed. Virginia is dead!
I try to steady my friend in his grief by announcing that I have ways of revivifying the body and spirit, and I can bring her back, though her form may change. On this thin thread of hope, we send Mistress Ardent shopping for reagents and unguents I require.
With permission from Lord Byron I reveal on Virginia’s neck the bitemarks of the Creature. It is confirmed. The Creature himself is here. I look at my friend. I am so sure it is not him. Aren’t I?
The answer is in Gryphon Hill, Strahd tells me, and so we head up there. The wind fights us as we fly there, with me in giant owl form, Strahd riding, Lex in my huge talons. But we make it. We hear sounds from within the castle-like mansion, with its four corner towers pointing up into the sky. At the door, the griffins guarding it turn on us! Except they don’t. It’s an hallucination that only I can see. Why doesn’t the hallucination trap affect Strahd, and just me? Is it because he is the one renting the house?
As he tries to open the door, the knocker attacks him, trying to eat his hand, which dispels that notion of mine. With a wave of his free hand, he siphons the magical energy out, and his hand is released.
The first few rooms we go into are bare and ransacked looking. At the rear of the study, double doors open onto a brick wall. How strange. In the dining room, we find the table set! But for whom? I feel eyes following me from a painting, and pointing that out makes them run away. So, there must be a corridor behind there. We explore further the open rooms, since we do not yet know how to get through the wall.
There are mice in the kitchen infesting the food which seems to have been recently put out, for it is only beginning to rot. They are reluctant to talk to me, as Strahd smells like a predator to them. He asks me what they are saying, and I am careful to obscure that I fear he may be my good friend at day and the Creature at night (yet how can that be? He has been with me this whole time, including at night!). I manage to convince one to trust me, then he tells me that the secret corridor is through the fireplace, and that the house is full of people you can see but not smell – ghosts, and perhaps other undead I suppose. Then a little compatriot of his sums up the courage to speak, and says that she saw Strahd drink the blood of one of her family. I hide what she says from Strahd. Surely there must be another explanation?
We spend some time looking in the fireplace, where Strahd finds the catch to open the secret door. We find the secret corridor there, and it runs the length of the north wall of the house. There is a stairwell down, which we take. There is an odd slime which we test before walking through, but it seems harmless.
At the end of the long corridor, we open the door into an alchemy laboratory. We see signs in there that Strahd was working here, and perhaps I was too. There are diagrams, showing the workings of a massive machine. What is it supposed to do?
As we read, I come to a horrific realisation. I look on my forearm for the long-healed scar of bitemarks of my brother crocodile when I grew up with the crocs and wrestled them for play… and it isn’t there. What is happening? In my moment of existential confusion, I smell the well-inhabited scent of Sigil. Where am I really?
My delirium is broken by something falling from the ceiling and wrapping around Strahd, suffocating him. We kill it, and in the adrenaline, my confusion is gone. Strahd and I go to open the very large doors in the eastern wall.
We have found the room behind the bricked up doorway, for it takes up an entire quarter of the house, the whole southeastern corner, even up to the roof, where a glass dome is cracked, letting the weather in. Wire, ropes, beams hang jaggedly into an absence – something should be here. Our experiment. Where is it? What was it?
We find in the wreckage a rod of glowing crystal. We know we need this. Why? What is it for? The words come to our lips. The Apparatus. This rod powers it. ‘Where it all began,’ Strahd mouths. ‘Though cannot end,’ I answer.
Lightning strikes into the room. It would have struck the Apparatus, if it was there. The lightning enlightens the darkest recesses of my mind. I have an inkling of what happened here. Strahd and I entered the machine. Strahd, with the intent to rid himself of all evil in his soul, all the dreams that haunted him of bloodshed and bloodlust. But that evil had to go somewhere. So the Creature was born. Something more akin to the Strahd I knew before, in Barovia, the monster I ended. So is what was left behind a purely good Strahd? He seems a normal man to me, as much as I admire his good qualities too.
And what of me, when I stepped in the machine? But it wasn’t me. It was Dr Stephen Irving. Where did he go? How did I come here?
I take the two wooden pawns from my pocket. One white, one black. This is one of my oldest memories. Could it be that I was created? Created for this very purpose, to be locked in this eternal war of good against evil?
Coming out of my existential dread, we uncover more secrets of the room, such as the door out, which is disguised from the other side to look like the servants’ entrance to the kitchen, and a ladder up to a corridor that connects with a secret door on the first floor. Then we backtracked through the lab to find further rooms to the north. Within the next room, we find and kill a vampiress. There are two coffins however, so there is one more vampire we must find.
In the next room we meet a long dead corpse. As he begins to rise, I get seized by the odd urge to be friendly and help him up by the hand. He takes my hand and does not attack. As he is a mummy, communicating with him is hard and slow, but he manages to convey that he is Bath Kleinen! Taking pity on him, I change his shape to that of a cat so he can move faster and come with us. What we’ll do to help him, I don’t know… but presumably whoever is in his body right now is the mummy, and he has somehow been body-swapped with that person.
Searching further, we find a secret prison, in which a few other body-swapped people are trapped. One mummy attacks us and is quickly dispatched, but two other monsters are townsfolk. We take them back to the reception room, though we the shade Gaston with us, since he can move fast.
Upstairs, we find a man soaking wet from the rain. He introduces himself as Ali Esterbridge, and says he has been squatting here. We take pity on him and invite him down to the kitchen, but he pushes me down the stairs and attacks! He is a vampire. It occurs to me, as we wrestle with him and eventually finally end him, that all the monsters here avoid hurting Strahd. Why is that?
Hurt badly from the fight, we decide to return to the sanitorium for the night, bringing the body-swap victims with us. In the sky, the massive face of the Creature, formed out of cloud and lightning, tries to bite me with lightning teeth! But I manage to twist out of the way, and we make it back to the sanitorium.
There, Mary tells me she’ll take care of the victims, and that we must go up to Heather House, as the ingredients for the ritual have been gathered! So we go there. I am too fatigued to do the spell tonight, so we go to bed, and I pray that the staff of the house listen to what I told them as to how to treat the body of Virginia…
I am awoken after midnight by Lex growling. I cannot move. Why can I not move?
Strahd is at the window, and beyond it, Virginia hovers, her mouth and front drenched in blood. She calls to Strahd to join her. He starts to open the window. I manage to flick a pebble from my pocket at the back of his head. A lucky strike! The spell is broken, and he retreats from the window in fear! Virginia leaves to join her master.
We flee the house as quickly as we can, heading for the safety of the sanitorium. But inside, it is a massacre. Everyone is dead, even Mary, even the shade Gaston is gone. We go to leave, but outside the whole village has gathered with torches, lead by Mistress Ardent. They blame us for the massacre and the vampirism. I turn into an owl and get us out of there as soon as I can. As we ascend, to my despair, I see the mayor is a grown-up Radovan.
By a circuitous route we come back to the empty Wescote Manor. We doubt the servants will be back, as it seems like the body-swapping is to near completion, so they will probably stay in the town, possessed, serving the Creature. So we make this our home base, and venture out to finish searching Gryphon Hill for whatever answers we can find. I still tell Strahd we will save Virginia. I hope he believes me. I hope I believe me.
Back in Gryphon Hill, the monsters we meet are all townspeople now, and we usher them to follow us and return to the relative safety of Wescote Manor – all except one, the ghost of an ancient inhabitant of this house, with a tragic backstory, who we cannot convince, and so are forced to end. Again and again, I am assaulted by visions and hallucinations and delirium, but we keep going. Within the bedroom Strahd finds his diaries and notes, and we confirm our suspicions. The notes speak of driving evil from the soul of man, specifically, his own sense of repressed evil.
In the closet we make an amazing discovery. An extremely expensive ruby… and we know what it is almost without having to detect the magic auras around it. It is a scrying stone. ‘Oh no,’ I say, ‘We have been discovered! Let us leave at once.’ Shutting the door to the closet, I roll my eyes, and keep searching.
We find more secret corridors, and the way up to the roof, with more body-swapped townspeople. Up in the north tower, we find a footlocker full of Strahd’s notes, one of which shows us a diagram of the Apparatus, and another which says it had been taken to his own grave. We remember that was in the hypnotism now, and I ask if he has a grave. He has a place reserved for him in the Weathermays’ mausoleum! So now we know where we must storm, and most likely where the Creature will be.
We find four gargoyles who are townspeople at the west tower, nothing in the south tower, and are attacked by a swarm of sturges in the east tower. Only the central tower remains. Inside, we feel relief. It is a holy, consecrated room. Unfortunately the floor is weak, but we manage to make it over carefully to the altar. There is a holy symbol and a book. Strahd tries to jimmy open a locked box, and he vanishes. I panic, and cast Locate Creature, but he is only down in the small graveyard behind the house. I fly him back up to the tower, and we examine the contents of the trapped box. There is a jewelled chalice and a stick of incense.
We’re not sure what any of this means, but we come up with a plan. Tomorrow we will return here, steal the ruby in the day when the Creature cannot move, and use it to awaken Lex into full sentience, so that he might help us avenge his mistress. The holy ground should protect us. We leave for now, taking all the bodyswap victims to Wescote Manor with us.
Early after the sun rises we fly to Gryphon Hill, straight into to the central tower. There, Strahd paces anxiously while I work the ritual.
It goes much differently from what I expect. Rather than awakening Lex, I am drawn deep within myself, into my skin, into the blood and viscera, where it loses all meaning, then becomes clear again, little planets orbiting within me, far far down. I realise that I am a part of everything, but we are all of us everything. I can feel the planes within me, and then I can sense something of the truth. This is not the shadowfell after all! There is something awry in Beastlands, there is something awry in the Beastlands in me.
My downwards motion slows, then stops, and I see a figure before me. ‘Um… hey,’ comes the voice of my old friend Merka. ‘So, ugh, I guess I’m your spirit guide, or something.’ He gives me three truths. One, he says to me one path leads to many paths, leads to many paths. I say that’s a tree, and he’s pleased that I understand.
He tells me that the disorder I can sense in the Beastlands is in me too. I have been divided. I have created this place. The idea astounds me. How can I grasp it? If I have created this place, why is everything going so wrong?
Finally, as I begin to fade back to reality, he tells me that I was not created for any purpose, except by myself. I’m the one who created me, through the choices I have made.
As I fade back, I am engulfed by the rainbow. I hear a dry and raspy sound. I instantly think of a snake. I feel terror and euphoria at once. It’s like the feeling I always expected to feel in the presence of a god. Is this rainbow my god?
I return to Strahd. We flee back to Wescote Manor, and I tell him everything that happened. We don’t know how to apply everything to our present situation, but we start making plans for the next day.
The new day dawns, but remains dark. Strahd and I feel there is no safe place to be, so we must keep on moving. To that end, I cast Wind Walk on us, which means for the next several hours we can shift into a very fast moving mist and fly out to places distant. But before leaving the Manor, I try to plane shift out of this dark place, and of course, I cannot.
We fly to the church, still in ruins. Zombies come shambling towards us from the graveyard. They are, of course, townspeople. We calm them and get them to wait in safety. We head towards the priest’s cottage, wanting to finally come to terms with what we did to the church. When we arrive he is actually talking to us, he’s friendly…. Nope! I realise in time that he is a body-swapper, and I restrain him with croc form. Tied up, we interrogate him by holding him next to the holy ground of the church, which makes him burn up if he dares touch it. He answers our questions. The Creature has been using the Apparatus to swap all the townspeople with the monsters of Gryphon Hill, but he’s missing part of it, otherwise he would have done it all much faster. His orders to the body swappers are to lure us in and deliver my good friend Strahd to him. The Apparatus is indeed where we know it to be, at the mausoleum, and so is the Creature, waiting for us.
We tie the priest up in his cottage, and search the surrounding area for more clues the hypnotism suggested to us. We manage to rig up some rudimentary communications with the body-swap victims, and find that the actual priest is one of them, so I ask him what did we do? He clarifies, he only knows instinctively that we did it, he has no proof, but on the night the Apparatus was completed, the church was struck by lightning and burned down. Makes sense.
We head to the church’s mausoleum first, as the priest says Strahd left something in there. We search the tomb of Normal Korval, and find the hidden cache behind his bronze nameplate. There we find a sulphur sphere, which is part of the Apparatus, and more of Strahd’s notes and diary. There we find recorded that the Creature intends to have his ‘life’ back again, by replacing Strahd in his own body, then setting the lynchmob on Strahd inside the Creature’s body.
Outside, the storm intensifies. We know we must go to Heather House, so we do. We see wagons outside the mausoleum of the Weathermays, which clearly brought the Apparatus here. The mausoleum is in great disrepair. We pause in the entrance to embrace, and I tell Strahd that no matter what happens, I’m glad I had this time with him, and he’ll always have a friend in me.
There are several large chambers before us to navigate, with noises of horror coming from deeper within. Lightning strikes the great broken glass domed roof. Statues of beings of all heavenly and hellish planes, frescoes ruined, coffins emptied, then the great room itself… walls and walls and walls of coffins of ancestors, and behold! The Apparatus! Behind it, two thrones, and on them, the Creature, the dark Strahd, and Virginia.
We move closer and the picture resolves into greater detail. The Creature has been staked! He sits paralyzed, trapped at the moment of death. Virginia sits smugly and awaits us. She offers to finish the deed.
What is it she wants, we wish to know. She wants to vampirise my good friend Strahd, and rule forever with him! She doesn’t want to renounce vampirism! She finally knows independence and power this way, rather than the powerless life as a decoration of her father’s, destined to be a decoration for her husband to possess.
But, I argue, the vampire is evil inherently! Even if she wishes to drink only from the blood of animals for now, she may change in time, she may corrupt with age.
Is the vampire inherently evil? She throws that back at me, and I am floored. Is the vampire inherently evil? Strahd looks at me for an answer. I don’t know what to say. What do I say?
I take him by the shoulders. ‘I want it to be true.’ A smile breaks over my face. ‘I want it to be true… and therefore, let it be true! Come, let’s fix the townspeople, then all three of us leave this place. If there’s anywhere a vampire could try to be good, it’s on the planes!’
Virginia is uncertain that I really mean it. ‘But how?’
I think hard. ‘It must be the way I came through… the Apparatus itself will take us there.’ I go to place the crystal rod in the machine, and she drives the stake all the way through the Creature, ending it, and joins us.
I take Strahd’s hand, and Virgina takes his other. I look at my friend once more. Will he be there on the other side, if I created this place? I don’t know. I hope so.
We step in. They vanish, but I feel like somewhere on the infinite planes, perhaps they still exist. If they do, I will find them.
But as for me, where do I return? I can feel it again in the same way my spirit vision showed me… I am leaving my mind. It was all… what, a dream? A vision? A delusion? And why? I must know… The Beastlands… It’s something to do with the Beastlands… I will solve whatever problem is happening there… because it’s what I do.
Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation. Obviously.
Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!
21 days to go, continued
Heading down the stairs to the final level, we saw the green glow from a smouldering cauldron in the centre of a dungeon room. There were three empty rocking chairs, haberdashery lying around and a spinning wheel. There was a caged prisoner in the middle of the room, and three little dolls made of various bits and pieces limped up to us. They warned us that the Sewn Sisters would come, and they asked us to free them. We said we would. Gathering the miserable looking things up, we moved into the room properly.
That was when the caged prisoner turned around and I got the shock of my life. It was me. I yelled out that I wasn’t going to be so easily spooked. But as we got to talking, she revealed to us what she was: a clone, created by the Sewn Sisters, and used to spy on our progress. Nanny Pupu, all that long time ago, had taken some hairs from me and sent them away to the Sisters, before we killed her. We freed and dressed my clone, and took her to be with our small band of refugees.
Then we settled into breaking the puzzle of the room we were in. At the end was a door that had five plaques on it: one triangular, one a square, a pentagon, a hexagon, and finally an octagon. Behind each of these would be a keyhole corresponding to the skeleton keys we had liberated. But to move the plaques, we had to solve the puzzle in each of the five rooms on the mezzanine level above us. So we started with the room with a triangle on the door.
This one did not take us too long. There was a lever, but it was behind a glass cylinder which we couldn’t lift or move. Zagmira used a misty step spell to get in and out of there. The first keyhole was revealed. In the next room, the square-plaqued door, we found pages of spells flying around. We were able to grab three spells: Alarm, Immolation, Unseen Servant, and Investiture of Ice, before the rest turned into a whirwind of dust mephits. One we dispatched that, we had to figure out how to touch the level, which was in an ethereal state. It took us ages, trying all sorts of methods, but finally Orvex thought to just try drawing a square around it. And that worked.
In the next room, the pentagon room, a gaunt man setting up a feast invited us to eat. Ignoring him, we inspected the tapestries around the walls. One patch was different from the others. It had a devil face, a motif common in the room, but the mouth was real. I had a skeleton poke its finger in, and that solved the puzzle. Unfortunately, we left the room without eating, which made the man lay a curse on us. We decided to rest up, and return once Hugo had asked the chwingas for a spell to remove the curse from all of us.
19 days to go
We wasted an entire day just removing the curse, and were finally ready to go again. The Sewn Sisters had not yet emerged, so we went to the hexagon room next. Within was a cracked six-sided mirror with the words ‘Piggy piggy piggy’ written above it, and five candles. I got the team to search for the sixth candle, and we found it, lit them, and then said piggy three times. A lever appeared in the mirror, and we pulled it (a bit weird, seeing oneself holding something that wasn’t actually there). Then it was onto the final room.
This one was where it nearly all went wrong. There was a leather tome upon a lectern with a rhyme written in infernal, and eight skeletons along the walls. We read the rhyme in our heads, front to back, and back to front, and were trying to decide which way it should be said aloud. Hugo, Flask and I were the only ones in the room when I accidentally triggered the trap while exploring the room. The gravity went upside down, the ceiling opened up, and beneath us was a giant metal blender. I cast Fly on Hugo and myself while Flask clung for dear life onto the lectern. We read the rhyme quickly, and the trap reset, and the lever appeared.
Outside, the rest of the team were standing there, watching the approach of the Sewn Sisters. I was fed up, not keen on talking, so we quickly dispatched them, focussing on the closest of the witches first so as to break their coven and diminish their spell power. With that done, the other two were easy to take down. The three little dolls were now inert, and free I suppose. And the five keyholes were now revealed. We decided to have one last rest before confronting Acererak.
18 days to go
We placed the keys in the door and unlocked it to reveal a huge chamber with lava beneath us. We were able to safely assemble on a wide ledge near the door, while Acererak was on another ledge to the right of us, and the Soulmonger hung suspended in the air by metal cables to the left of us. Some… thing… was attached to the Soulmonger, tube in mouth. It looked like it was made of different bits and pieces of different people.
Acererak started to speak to us. It was standard bad guy monologue, but Orvex whispered to me to keep him talking as long as possible, and then he whispered something long and complicated to Hugo. Meanwhile the rest of us tried to hide them, keeping Acererak going on and on about how he was using the Soulmonger to build a new god, a vessel for some being called Tenebrus, his master. Alas, we couldn’t keep him talking forever, and the fighting began.
He made a sphere of annihilation and sent it amongst us. It focussed on Zagmira, and she ran around the ledge jumping and cursing as bits and pieces of her voluminous robes got singed off into oblivion. Flask ran dashingly up the cables, all the way over to stab Acererak… and got killed in by single spell of Acererak’s, his corpse sent flying back to us with the impact. If that wasn’t shocking enough, my skeletons and zombies refused to attack Acererak! Hugo ran between us all, shouting to give him the Nine Gods, so we started doing so, and the more nimble and ranged amongst us started attacking the god-golem in the centre. It opened its eyes, and hit us with some sort of whammy that exhausted us all. Zagmira was finally overcome by the sphere of annihilation, and a second corpse lay on our side now.
We ignored Acererak, who seemed untouchable, and continued to stab and shoot the god-golem, until finally Ninya hit it, killed it, and leapt off it before it became insubstantial. Acererak was cursing us, but saying it would only delay him a little. Thankfully, he had been distracted enough by the flurry of the rest of us, to fail to notice that Hugo now had all the Nine Gods’ holy objects, and was starting to glow. Chwingas started to appear around the cavern. Acererak pointed a bony finger at Hugo, and annihilated him with another single kill spell.
Hugo died, but in that moment the Soulmonger exploded, and a giant laser shot for the sky from its heart, through all six levels of the tomb above. The laser resolved itself into a figure… a giant figure of a man… but was it Hugo? Or was it, as a celebrating Orvex cried out, the Nine Gods reconstituted into the original god, the one that ‘vanished’ before they appeared… Ubtao?
Acererak was mad now. All the power of the Soulmonger was wasted now, not given to Tenebrus, but instead to Hugo/Ubtao. Not only that, but Flask and Zagmira stood up, and all of us were refreshed by wave after wave of energy from the giant glowing figure above us. So we naturally attacked. It was still a hard fight, even with Hugo sending us energy and healing, but we managed to wear Acererak’s spell power down, and our tabaxi attacked with unrelenting energy even after Zagmira and I were well out of spell power ourselves. Above us, Hug-tao was growing, expanding his consciousness, testing his powers. Ninya became Acererak’s focus, as she was dealing him the most damage, and he managed to knock her down. But when we got her back up again, she finally managed to kick the stupid skull of his neck vertebrae, into the lava below.
My oldest friend, once Hugo, now Ubtao, but maybe still Hugo, wished us luck, and left. There was no corpse, so… maybe it was Hugo? Either way, the waters of Omu were starting to fill the dungeon so we decided to destroy what we could, save what was needed, and leave as soon as possible. We found, in the same cavern as us, a ton of phylacteries of the servants of Acererak, so we threw these in the lava. Further back in the cavern we found a teleporter that took us to Acererak’s private chambers. In his chapel of hate, we found some nothiks chained up, a font for the baptism of the new god, and an unconscious man in a body bag. We picked him up and kept exploring. There were many strange things, like a portal to Arcadia, a pool of black ooze, a music box that could sound like many instruments (I took that), and a library full of arcane texts, looked after by a man named Mr Fox. We tried to get him to escape with us, but he said he was bound here. Zagmira said she was staying too. When we said she had to escape before the tomb became a lake, she said it was fine, she’d go to Arcadia instead, and besides, she needed some other prize now that the Soulmonger had exploded. But we still had to get out before it was too late, so we fled the chapel of hate, out the teleporter, across the quickly cooling lake of lava and water, and through the tomb which was now a wonderland of waterfalls. I noticed, as we escaped, that the Starfallen had set free as part of the destruction of the works of Acererak, but Nepartak, the princess in the skull, was still with Copper Bell. That was confusing. Shouldn’t Acererak’s death have freed her? Of course we hadn’t killed him completely… he’d have many phylacteries in other places… but we’d ended the horrid spell on our plane, and that’s why we came here.
When we emerged in Omu, Mwaxanare received us happily. We gave her the chalice of Chigakare, and told her of the return of Ubtao. The yuan-ti had been purged completely from Omu. We travelled with her back to Port Nyanzaru, where she announced the return of the Omuan monarchy and of Ubtao. Later that first day, the man we carried out of Acererak’s chapel came to. He said his name was Volo, and he was very thankful to us. He seemed a little put out when none of us recognised his name. As we travelled he regaled us with many tales of his adventures.
On our way up the river-routes, we passed Camp Vengeance, only to find it in ruins. There seemed to be a colony of were-tigers living there now. Some on the bank shouted to us to leave them alone, unless we wanted to convert to were-tigers and join their free love colony. I recognised them as they spoke to us… it was Cipactonal and Oxomoco. Well, at least they seem happy. And they destroyed that abysmal self-righteous camp. Win-win.
My master Syndra was pleased to see me, and seemed to be at peace with the fate of Hugo. She said I seemed to be glowing. I couldn’t really see it myself. She invited me to come back with her to Waterdeep, but I told her I had promises I made here that needed fulfilling first. Besides… I don’t think I can go back to being servant to a master again. I’ve learnt too much on this adventure.
It was time for the band to go their separate ways. For River and Flask, this happened quicker than I could think. River only had time to say a quick goodbye to me, carrying an unconscious Flask over her shoulder, one week into our stay in Port Nyanzaru. Flask, bored back in town, had gotten in trouble with a merchant prince, and so she had arranged for them to get passage out of town on the first boat out. She refused to wait for me to organise something else for her, but I did at least see them safe on their ship, and I did manage to create a diversion on the docks so they got away safely. Who knows where they’ll end up? But they are so much more powerful now than when I first hired them. I’m sure they’ll be fine, wherever they end up.
Orvex chose to return to Omu with Mwaxanare. He couldn’t resist a chance to study aarakocra culture up close. She’s hiring him as an advisor, and paying in antiques! I can’t think of a happier place for him to be.
Copper Bell has held onto the skull of Nepartak and continues to communicate with her still. Nepartak has asked for her to find her ancestor, Zalkore, a former queen of Omu who may still be alive due to a curse. They think she might be able to help restore Nepartak to a living body. It’s believed she is in Nangalore, yet another ruined jungle city. So Copper Bell is off on another adventure, but she seems a lot happier and full of purpose now that she has a child to care for again.
I’ve given Fionn the Eye of Zeltec as she asked, and she is taking it to Halruaa with the survivors of the flying shipwreck to find a gemcutter and a workshop. Watch this space, she said to me before departing…
Ninya went back to Waterdeep with Syndra, thanking me for my help. I asked if she wouldn’t stay and adventure further with me, but she said she had to get back to her best friend and make sure she was still alive.
There are people who helped us who we may never see again, and some who I know we won’t. Eeyal and Inete seem like distant memories. Theeka’s loss is a little fresher, and I even still have her murderer’s corpse in my skeleton army (his bones always seemed to hold some memory of his excellent marksmanship). Those three I know are dead and gone, and because of the Soulmonger there was nothing I could do. Except, I hope, maybe their souls were freed when Hugo became Ubtao. I wish I’d thought to ask him. I feel like Artus and Dragonbait may have made it out though. I have no real evidence to base this on, except the fact that the frost giants haven’t turned the whole world into one big snowball. I’ll have to see if I can research a spell to contact them and see. But that will have to wait for my other promises first.
The first promise I have to fulfill will find me heading back to Wyrmheart Mine, to meet again with Tinder. There’s something we want to try…
So! That’s finally it for Tomb of Annihilation! Wow.
James and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the last two campaigns we’ve played through. There were moments in it that were amazing. I particularly loved the actual city of Omu itself, with all the different elements it had: collect the Nine Gods, beat the other people who are trying to collect them, watch out for the environmental dangers (e.g. Bag o Bones, King of Feathers) and defeating the yuan-ti and Ran Nsi. But as a whole it lacked the cohesion of Curse of Strahd, and the sandboxiness of it (a part of Storm King’s Thunder I loved) was ruined by the time limit (which James would not run with again, in hindsight). It meant we never tried the tortle adventure add-on, sadly…
Let me know if you want more of an in-depth analysis of this campaign (or any others) from James’s perspective as a DM. I’ve been trying to encourage him to write or vlog about it, as he’s very experienced and thinks a lot about what he chooses to play or not. He’ll have a much more in depth analysis, if you’re interested in hearing that.
What are the impacts for the meta-plot of our meta-campaign? Well, as you might have seen if you followed the whole campaign, TOA tied into our SKT playthrough with the presence of Artus Cimber and the ring of winter, and obviously the presence of Ninya, who was there to save Genora’s (second) life! But it did also tie into the Dirwin mega-campaign, with the mention of Tenebrus. This is very much James’s invention here, so don’t get confused. He rewrote parts of the ending of TOA, particularly the part with Hugo turning into Ubtao, but also with Acererak’s god-golem being intended for possession by Tenebrus. (Basically he likes to see me scream when things tie into the meta-plot, haha). Also with the Mechanus scene happening on level five of the tomb, that directly ties into what Dirwin is doing right now with the March of the Modrons. So this does complicate things if you’re trying to make our campaign stick to the popularised timeline of events in standard Forgotten Realms… but basically, don’t worry about it.
So what’s next for Sky Bear Games’s D&D games? We’re probably taking a little break from these one-player home campaigns for a little bit because life is busy, but we’re finishing off our home brew setting campaign very soon too… check out the blog for that here: http://dragonprincescarnevale.blogspot.com/
As for the one-player games though, I am very torn! We actually have three options. Comment if you’ve got an opinion on what you’d prefer to see:
- Get back to the main Dirwin storyline (currently he is halfway through the March of the Modrons)
- Return for a brief adventure with Genora/Serissa, who, having recovered from the soulmonger curse, has to now defend her throne from those who think her weak, and protect against mortality by… getting married and producing an heir?!
- Or start anew (but still part of the meta-plot) with a young tiefling girl in Waterdeep, and her plucky gang of friends, as we play through the very exciting looking campaign Dragon Heist?