Domain of the Month
The domain of Barovia is a tiny, isolated domain in the center of the Core. Ruled by the mysterious Count Strahd von Zarovich, this quaint little barony is plagued by countless terrors. The people are a superstitious breed and utterly terrified of the night. Strahd is in actuality a vampire and a wizard of great skill. Centuries ago he made a pact with Death, became a vampire and slew his brother Sergi to possess Tatyana, Sergie's fiancé. On that black day Tatyana threw herself from the walls of Castle Ravenloft, vanishing into the mists. For centuries Strahd has waited for the reincarnation of Tatyana, and though she has appeared numerous times, in each instance she has been taken from him.
More information can be found on Strahd and Barovia in the adventures I6: Ravenloft, I10 Ravenloft 2, House of Strahd, Roots of Evil, and Thoughts of Darkness, the core rule books Realm of Terror, Domains of Dread, and the Ravenloft Campaign Setting, the accessories Children of the Night: Vampires, Children of the Night: Ghosts and Forbidden Lore, the 3rd edition books Champions of Darkness, Ravenloft 3rd Edition, Ravenloft Dungeon Master's Guide,Ravenloft Players Handbook, Ravenloft Gazateer I and Secrets of the Dread Realms and finally, the novels I, Strahd, I, Strahd: The War against Azlian, King of the Dead, Knight of the Black Rose, Lord of the Necropolis, Tales of Ravenloft, and Vampire of the Mists.
Reginald de Curry
While in the Barovian wilds, the PCs are attacked by what appears to be a small band of thieves. Investigation shows that the thieves were each wearing a small amulet with unusual rune.
Each amulet is a material focus of a domination spell. The amulets are similar to a design used by Strahd's "ancestor" during the War Against Azalin. The thieves are actually kidnapping victims from Vallaki, including the current burgomeister's daughter. The Keepers of the Black Feather are looking for some of the kidnapping victims. If the PCs killed the "thieves", they may be targets. If not, the Keepers may become allies. Once (s)he realizes the PCs are hunting the amulets' creator, (s)he contracts the Ba'al Verzi to hunt the PCs. This guy wants to know who stole his design.
The PCs are traveling in the Barovian lands that once belonged to Gundarak. They come across a very small hamlet, hidden deep in the woods. The place has been turned into a slaughterhouse, and the only survivor can be found hidden in a well or some such. The survivor speaks of a horrible monster than swept through and destroyed everything in its path.
As the PCs investigate, they find a fallen burial mound in the deep woods. It is carved with ancient runes, and if they can translate, it speaks of an emissary of the dead god Erlin, a bringer of death and destruction. They might discover a devout gundarakite cultist, who reveals that they freed the monster living within, in hommage to their God. However, the beast is uncontrolable and hopleslly insane. It's now running amok across the countryside killing everything in its path. It may even weild a few divine or diabloic powers, lending credence to its relationshp to Erlin.
Or perhaps, the PCs might be hired as muscle by the Erlin cultists to help them. The PCs are hired muscle to help topple the great stone mound holding the savage Erlinite demon in the ground. And once they free the beast, it becomes their job to stop it.
A thousand years ago the noble denizens of ancient Vashar traded their own souls to a fiend called the Bargainer (good ol' Inajira is his younger days, perhaps even before he gained his current form as an Arcanoloth) to evade the wrath of the gods over their lives of blasphemy and sin, signing their names in the Book of Keeping to seal the pact. As their city collapsed around them and sunk into the ocean they died but rose again as hideously powerful undead called the Soulless. The Dark Powers of Ravenloft took notice of the event and sucked the doomed city into Ravenloft, placing it in the depths under the coast of Mordent and the denizens under a special curse- while they gained immortality they will not enjoy it, awaking only for a single week every 100 years when the cursed city rises out of the Sea of Sorrows. The only way they can break the curse is by reclaiming their souls.
And so, every 100 years the Soulless enter the mainland, searching for the Bargainer who deceived them. This time a group of the creatures arrived at Barovia and they are slowly closing in on Inajira... Inajira is aware that he created monsters and that even he cannot withstand their combined might and so he asks for the PCs protection, hiding himself as an innocent. The Soulless might hide themselves as tortured poor beings and likewise seek the PCs aid.
Note: Stats for the Soulless appear in my upcoming article for Quoth 9 Terrors from the Deep. If you actually want to use this adventure hook before it comes out use the Vilewight from the Book of Vile Darkness or an advanced Wight which can use spells from the Evil domain as spell-like abilities a varying number of times per day.
A Stranger in Immol
Late in the year 739 BC a young pale-skinned, red headed stranger arrived in Immol. He commsissioned the construction of a house and stayed at the Bolting Stag until it was completed. During this time he said fairly little and the things he did say were nearly incomprehendable because almost half of his words were spoken in different languages. When the house was completed he moved in and has only rarely been seen in the eighteen years since then. On the occasions he does venture outside the people marvel at his seemingly long-lasting youth. Over the years every great once in a while people are seen coming or going from the house. The people never stay at the Inn or associate with the villagers in any way. Recently a local half-Forfarian/ half-Thaani boy visited the man. He has been unwilling or unable to speak about what happened inside. This has resulted in some of the villagers concluding that due to his eternal youth, pale-skin, and seeming lack of food stuffs that he must be a vampire. Now all they need to due is hire some adventurers before it's too late for the local boy.
During the last days of the Neureni Invasion, the Irlek-Khan led his people back east, fleeing before the vengful Barovian armies. Their escape seem assured but in the edge of hills of Bleak Vistas near Mount Sawtooth, the Barovians caught up to the Neureni and would have destroyed them if not for the Irlek-Khan single-handly leading his people to break the Barovian lines allowing them to flee into the hills. The escape was not with cost to the Neureni, for in the battle the Irlek-Khan had been mortally wounded by a unknown spearman, with his dieing order he ordered bulk of his people back to their eastern stepes.
His most loyal retainers however, remained with him till he breathed his last before placing their leader's body within a cave on the side of mount Sawtooth and sealing the cave behind them with magic, they left to join their people in the east vowing to retreive the body at a later time when they could ensure its safe return to the stepes. These loyal followers never made it to the stepes, and were slain by Barovian soldiers as they made for the border, and the Irlek-Khan's body remained remained hidden in the cold, frozen cave on Mount Sawtooth, being worshiped by his people far in the east as a god that had walked among them and being feared as a demon by the Barovians, the corpse woke once more into the life of an ancient dead. the Irlek-Khan has remained in his tomb for years drifting in and out of dormancy trapped by the very spells that were placed there to ensure his body would not be disturbed. all it would take to free this monster on the world is a foolish wizard or a ill placed avalanche.
An adventure hook for low to mid level characters: A small party of Duergar Psychic warriors are captured within the mists and end up in Barovia. These Duergar were the leaders of a small tradition of psychic warriors in their home plane and seek a way out of Ravenloft. Since they know nothing about the existance of the dark powers and that magic cannot help them out, they make their home in an abandoned mine in the Ballinoks and at nights they raid the nearby communities & trade caravans for gold to later pay a wizard to send them home. They infiltrate silently and invible houses and manors of the rich and the noble, kill everyone and loot them. Then they depart silently leaving false evidence. Also they terrorize, pay & train a local sheriff or guard captain to send adventurers and other do-gooders astray or let them know if anyone is at their tracks.
They have one or two captured kobolds to build them traps and a few other slaves. They keep a few aberrations as guard pets and some corrupted & ostracized dwarves they found as trainees.
The Toy: There is a wizard who is now a toy maker and a magic item he has created is basically a toy (wondrous item) with the Major Creation spell in it. You put the material component in the "mouth" of the toy and you get back what you want. I can't come up with anything I really like.
Igor the Henchman
Years ago, an evil werewolf was slain by pious village folk. The creature’s soul, however, still resides within the creature’s pelt. All those who wear the pelt of the beast become were creatures themselves, under the control of the original beast’s vengeful spirit.
Strange murders have been occurring by night in the countryside. The bodies are always found lying decapitated on the road. Paranoia takes hold of the townsfolk. In truth, this is the work of a pack of vargouilles that have recently appeared in the region. The creatures have come through a mystic portal hidden somewhere in the local cemetery’s crypt and since then strive to increase their numbers.
An adventure seemingly involving Strahd in person but wherein he in fact keeps to the background:
A Stallion for Strahd
This adventure begins in Barovia. The young and foppish Boris von Zarovich, little loved by his immediate family, has decided that his fortune lies with proving his worth directly to the great family patriarch and ruler of Barovia, Count Strahd von Zarovich XI. As there can be no question of going to Castle Ravenloft empty-handed, Boris has hit upon the perfect gift: the most fearsome blacks stallion on the plains of Nova Vassa. Boris confided his intentions to the Vistani in the hope that they could be hired to find and steal the creature. Although they declined politely the insultingly small sum of gold on offer, the rauni of the tribe was kind enough to consult, “for a minor service to be named later,” her tarot deck as to where and when the stallion might be found. With a somewhat cryptic answer in hand, Boris retired to reformulate his plans.
Being a wizard, and not an especially distinguished one at that, Boris had no appetite to see to the business himself. And the more he considered spending his gold on hired mercenaries the less he liked that alternative. Instead, as a von Zarovich lord should, he would delegate the deed to adventurers. And to insure that his commands were scrupulously heeded, he would appear before them in the guise of the lord of Barovia himself.
Thus the adventurers while in Barovia suddenly find their sleep disturbed by the somewhat melodramatic entrance and presence of his exalted lordship, Count Strahd von Zarovich XI, who charges them with the recovery of the fiercest black stallion on the plains of Nova Vassa and gives them the Vistani directions as to place and time. Asked about a reward, Boris attempts his best malevolent smile and replies: “The goodwill of the Lord of the land.”
The party should have some chance of unmasking the ruse without further ado. Should they do so and visit some fitting punishment upon Boris, they will have thereby come into the good graces of the real lord of Barovia who will recompense them for their intelligence and effort. At the extreme this could be in the form of an invitation to Castle Ravenloft. Equally, they will have nothing to fear from Boris (whether they left him dead or alive) for Strahd and/or the Vistani will see to him once and for all.
Should the ruse not be uncovered immediately, the party is off to Nova Vassa. A hint that all is not well is the constant harassment of wolves so long as the party is in Barovia. In Nova Vassa the harassment is by plains cats. The adventurers will be challenged by the frontier guard and will be attacked should they be suspected of being horse thieves.
The real challenge begins when the party arrives to claim the stallion for it is a hell-blooded Nightmare. And it leads a half-dozen like-minded horses. All are likely to fight to the death and none will be taken alive save by extraordinary means.
Should the adventurers have failed in their mission, they may be loathed to return to Barovia. In any case Nova Vassa is by no means safe for they will soon be pursued for the capital crime of horse murder.
Should the adventurers put their hands on some credible alternative (or recall that nothing was said about the stallion being alive) and escape Nova Vassa with it, awaiting them patiently at the site where they were charged with returning to is Boris von Zarovich. Only he is nailed to a tree and quite dead. (There isn’t much blood on or about the tree or left in the corpse should they care to notice.) Affixed to him is a sign that reads: “Here hangs a man guilty of the high crime of impersonating his exalted lordship of Barovia, Count Strahd von Zarovich XI.”
Ideally, the players come upon the corpse by night. It is certainly dead but still slightly warm. In this case taking it down and burying it would be a dreadful mistake. First, Strahd would be displeased and second Boris would rise as a vampire under Strahd’s control, pretty much assuring a third meeting with the upstart.
Alternatively, he may rise as some other type of undead, for he still owes the Vistani a service . . .
To contribute to the Domain of the Month, post on the forum.
Send your adventure hooks to Joel@fraternityofshadows.com