Monday, August 27, 2012

Ravenloft session #2: The Swamp

Last Wednesday, we picked up in Chatain's village square mere hours after the band of Talons was defeated. The PCs questioned the captured soldier but received little more than accusations of treason to their King. Fearful of repercussions against the village, Alaric, Aginot, Leilana, and Captain Rapacion bade Karsten to arrange for any and all blame to be cast squarely upon them, if and when more soldiers returned. Imparting to Elias's family that they would find the missing boy even if he might never return to Chatain, the companions made haste into the night, delving into the forest and following nimble Leilana into Souragne.

The marshland quickly gave way to knee-deep swamp waters, and the PCs' calls for Elias yielded nothing. As the night darkened, the mists grew thick and the cloud cover eclipsed the moon. When direction seemed all but lost to the PCs, they came upon a raft, wedged between two jagged trees. They waded in to dislodge it, and found it to be in good repair - and large enough to carry all four.

Alaric conversed with Captain Rapacion during the pair's watch as they floated along. When questioned, Rapacion explained that in the villages of the Balinok Mountains, the mark of the Talon was far less common, as Drakov's soldiers ventured there less frequently, and with greater hardship. Alaric came away satisfied with the captain's motives and history, even if his allegiance to the companions might prove short-lived.

The next morning, the sky barely brightened, blanketed by a thick gray curtain of storm clouds that threatened to break at any instant. The raft drifted past black logs and fallen trees; in their midst, a crocodile, twice again the size of a man, emerged from the waters and assaulted the party. The PCs paddled to escape, and Leilana's entanglement spell held the creature fast, wrapping it in swamp vines until the raft was a safe distance away.

Throughout the afternoon they drifted along, unsure of their direction and seemingly devoid of any hope of finding the lost boy. At night, the four travelers bore witness to a sea of ominous, flickering lights, like distant candles, in nearly every direction. They watched them for hours, unsure of their source or meaning, as the raft floated in eerie silence. As the sun rose, the lights faded into the murky daylight.

Still the storm had not broke, but yet the nearly black clouds cast grim shadows over the swamp. The companions felt far from home, and further still from finding the missing boy. Without a raft of his own, he surely could not have made it this far.

On this third evening, the companions sighted the burning light of a campfire in the distance. As they drew near it, they saw a family of gypsies amid a colorful wagon, tethered to two old mares. The wagon was perched on a small island of dry land; how it came to be in the middle of the impassable swamp was a mystery.

The eldest gypsy, a thin and frail-looking old man, introduced himself as Scarengi, and bade the lost travelers to seat themselves beside the fire. The family explained that the companions were close to a town, only a handful of miles away, called Marais d'Tarascon, though they cryptically noted that it was not a place to visit "on a night such as this." As the PCs began to ask questions, a beautiful, shapely young woman emerged from the wagon, captivating the men with her stunning red lips and dark eyes. Scarengi proudly proclaimed her to be his daughter, Valana, and that she was gifted in the ways of fortune-telling. "The trouble began when I cast the runes for that quiet and lost young man," she explained sadly. "Perhaps it will end with another casting."

The PCs learned little else throughout their meal with the gypsies, their questions deflected by answers in the vein of "To speak of evil is to invite it to dinner." Finally, Valana took up a set of small stone tiles and cast them into a pan. As her captivating eyes bore into each companion in turn, she gasped. "The lost one has called you! The dead will walk with the coming storm, and you must find a way to put them to rest. If you cannot, the rain will turn to blood! It will drown you-you and all of Marais d'Tarascon."

Clearly unsettled, the gypsies retired hastily inside the wagon; only the strongest-looking man remained outside to tend the horses. Accepting that no further information was forthcoming, the PCs settled themselves to sleep; as they did, Valana's silhouette appeared in the doorway, whispering, "Beware the madman; beware his blood."

Tried as they might to stay awake in shifts, eventually the four companions all fell asleep. When they awoke the next morning, the wagon was gone.

Around midday, storm clouds dark as ever, they came upon a house on stilts. Many lanterns burned brightly from within, and as they attempted to peer inside from down below, a rope ladder fell to the base of the raft. Inside the house sat a young man, thin and gaunt, eyes milky white and vacant. In his hands he clutched a book of poetry with an inscription on the inside cover that read "To Luc, my beloved brother."  It was signed "Marcel."

Luc seemed to not acknowledge his visitors, intermittently reciting mangled verses to the open air:

The on descend shall evil of night the land, at
near are signs of hexad this when hand.

The mother stern of child lifeless found, heralds
evil of night a time unbound.

The "house" itself was but a single room, and in addition to a circle of burning lanterns was stocked with a barrel of fresh water, crates of provisions, and fresh clothing. As the companions made to depart, Luc suddenly attempted to climb down the rope ladder, plummeting into the water. Together the PCs dragged him to safety aboard the raft. Thereafter, numbered five, they left the empty house behind them, rowing until they saw a plume of smoke on the horizon, emanating from a distant village.

On they rode until they washed ashore at the swamp's edge, along the outskirts of what they could only assume must be Marais d'Tarascon.


No XP to award for this session - I'll wait until we hit a more appropriate stopping point to add up rewards and level any characters as needed.

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