Nick Nichols

Clojure Developer and Dungeon Master

Friends With Benefits

The triton spreads his arms widely, and calls out, “Well, just what do we have here?” Thaelen, Tlareg, Krug, and the Slenderman are somewhat off put by their host, but, knowing nowhere else to go, they cave. True to form, and in the order they were standing in, the group eventually responds.

“Hey.”

“What’s up?”

“Krug”

“HELLO”

They explain they’re new in town, and looking for information, a place to stay, and some work. The man introduces himself as Dalzos Dagoth, the “ringmaster” of the local thieving chapter, and sincerely promises to help the party. They ask him if he knows a man named Zehrulius or any way of getting an audience with the magistrate. The man smiles in the way only a con can, and offers to make a deal. A strange, poorly dressed half-orc turns from his seat at the bar as his ears perk up. Krug nods in approval.

Dalzos explains that recent events have drawn too much attention to his operation, and he needs to get the heat off his back. A paladin of the Platinum Dragon has recently taken guard duties in the city and is well-known for his appetite for justice. Normally, this wouldn’t bother the ringmaster, but a painting had recently been stolen from the manor of Count Strahd and is being moved through Trostenwald by another group of thieves. Dalzos, looking to appease the city guard asks the group to find the painting and return it to the paladin known as Arminius.

Thaelen, skeptical of the job, asks for more information, wanting explicit details on the limits of success and failure. Dalzos is only willing to help the group if the painting is returned intact to Arminius before him and his associates are arrested or investigated. The new moon in two nights would make convenient cover for the painting to be moved out of town, so he gives the group a day and a half. Since Dalzos has shared his home, he also insists on retrieving a blood sample from at least on party member.

Thaelen immediately declines, and asks for “a bit of privacy” to talk it over. The four huddle in the corner as the other half-orc approaches them. The mountain of a man, calling himself Number Six, wants in and is tired of lounging around an admittedly small bar. Krug and Six have a conversation in Orcish, and debate beating a stranger for their blood. Tlareg, annoyed the group won’t speak in common, asks Thaelen why he won’t give up a little blood.

“Listen, that blood hunter bitch can use that shit to track me. I ain’t about that life.”

He alludes to a prior incident that drove him out of the Idravalli Empire, and insinuates he had to pay a small fortune in bribes to make it to Barovia. Krug, not getting to Krug anything, decides to offer them to draw from his bandaged leg. The triton motions to the tabaxi, who magically fills a phial with Krug blood.

With their contract signed in literal blood, the group asks for any information that could help them locate the painting. Dalzos, a generous host, provides them with three leads.

  1. The Temple of the Raven Queen was robbed lost night. Believing the thieves to be amateurs, Dalzos believes they’d be dumb enough to draw that type of attention to themselves.
  2. The circus is in town, and has a less-than-stellar reputation. Even if the thieves aren’t a part of the circus, nobody would notice them skulking about.
  3. Arminius is leading his own investigation, and would certainly know something about the suspects.

The group decides to talk through their plans over a drink. Surprising no one, they order Maltört. While waiting for their drinks, Thaelen notices a young tiefling woman sitting at the bar. After thoroughly ogling the large goliath babe serving drinks, she offers her assistance as well. Thaelen tentatively agrees, but claims he “never works with someone without knowing their name.” She shrugs her shoulders and the matter is dropped. A single tear rolls down the cheek of the nameless twig of a man.

The group debates their options, but ultimately agrees the circus is the best place to start. The tiefling woman is excited about the prospect of finding snacks, Tlareg is excited to see a show, and Thaelen is disastrously drunk. Krug gives a look of disappointment. Acknowledging his fault, the wizard conjures up a strangely gaunt Mage Hand and slaps himself in the face to sober up.

While approaching the large yellow and red canvas tents, Thaelen passes out a silver-backed playing card to each of his associates to use as a fake ticket. The con-at-heart slips past the admission gate unnoticed, but the rest of the group is stopped by a seven-foot-tall orc wearing a purple and black striped vest and a clown’s nose. The orc sells them up on the promises of mystical wonders beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, the finest food in all of Barovia, and a main act so intense, it has allegedly killed three people. The rest of the group decides to buy the cheapest tickets, until the promises of mystic animals and drink tickets goad them into upgrading. Wide-eyed, Tlareg throws down enough coin to buy the unlimited gold pass.

As they walk into the sea of amusements, tents, and children sprinting around, they decide to split up based on their interests. The tiefling woman cons a teenaged, pimple-faced human into giving her free popcorn. Beanstalk, Krug, and Six decide to investigate the animals and promises of being able to pet them. Thaelen decides to look for carnival games, and Tlareg wants to get his fortune told.

Thaelen finds himself walking through a sea of children playing the rigged games of his youth. A small child asks if the hobo wizard is his father, and Thaelen immediately walks away. Finding himself in a small gambling room with three total patrons, he attempts to play three card ante by using a bucket as his bet. He then casts Minor Illusion to create fake money. After that, he attempts to cast Charm Person to persuade someone, anyone to let him play. Broke and denied, he decides to look for clues. He notices a small, goblin-like creature with dark skin dart into the shadows and assumes it is his blurred vision.

Meanwhile, Tlareg finds a small, gaudy tent serving as the home of a fortune teller. The decorations are designed as a draw, and the entire thing reeks of a scam; however, Tlareg discerns the old, dark skinned human woman is genuine. He asks to see his past and his future, and, while examining his palms, she draws two tarot cards:

  1. The Nine of Wands - While standoffish and paranoid, it is Tlareg’s resilience and determination that have driven him so far. He is focused, driven, and determined. The difficulties of his past have built up to his future.
  2. The Ten of Wands - The person Tlareg is looking for can be found; however, it will require sacrifice. Tlareg is capable of great things, but he will have to carry the weight and bear the price of his journey. In his future, he will have to decide between his destiny and accomplishments.

Tlareg reflects on the words, and asks if the woman knows of the painting. Seeing his all-access pass and no other customers, she offers a second telling. From what she can see, the painting is bound to soil and water and draws her to thoughts of the Shadowfell. She believes Barovia to be a cursed land, and this is another icon of the nation’s despair. He presses her for further details, but her glimpse into the future is cut short.

On the other side of the carnival, the tiefling woman decides she wants to pet animals while eating her popcorn. The four find themselves in a long tent housing an owlbear, an axe beak, several pseudodragons, and a gazer. While the rest continue oohing and aahing, the thin, nameless man slinks around, looking for clues. He notices several of the canvas flaps aren’t fully tied down, leaving a three- to four-foot entrance in a few panels. While Krug and Six yell at each other from across the room, he slips through the crack and finds himself near the housing portion of the carnival. He sneaks around a few of the tents before finding one covered in mud.

Leaning against the canvas, he hears a few voices muttering in Sylvan.

“Do you have everything?”

“Yeah.”

“Does anybody know?”

“I don’t think so.”

He dashes back to his party, and calls them to join him. They stack up at the front of the tent, and the tall man rips open the flaps.

“ARE YOU LITTLE BOYS BEING NAUGHTY?”

Frightened, the two Darklings try to dart away. The tall man casts Eldritch Blast and knocks the wind out of one of his foes, and yells, “Keep one safe so we can find out who’s been naughty and nice!” The tiefling chases after him as he tries to escape, and hefts him off the ground. Krug hefts Six into the tent, and Six attempts to tackle the other darkling. After seeing his half-orc brother in arms fall flat on his face, Krug roars and flies into a rage. The other darkling starts running away, but Six lands a strike from the ground and Krug throws his halberd through their foe.

With the remaining Darkling bound in canvas and rope, they begin interrogating him. After seeing his impaled friend, he immediately tells the party where they can find the painting. They are led along the creek’s path for nearly a mile, before they find a boat tied up on the shore. The thin man lifts a piece of canvas, and find several boxes of ceremonial tattoo ink, and a very large portrait of a woman that looks strikingly similar to Gertruda. Six asks if it’s the right painting, and the thin man assumes the Strahd would highly value the portrait of his late wife. He checks for a signature on the back of the canvas and finds the name Childris Westerwilt. After a brief discussion, they agree the Count would reward them for turning in the thief and decide to bring the painting, the darkling, and themselves to the Blood on the Vine.

The thin man returns to the carnival to find Thaelen and Tlareg. They are both leaving the main show in wildly different moods. Thaelen, barely conscious, slumps over Tlareg’s shoulder, slurring “People are walking to shadows. Become darkness.” Tlareg, upset that he was probably ripped off, has been stuffing his bag with as much free food as he can carry, and tells the wizard, “No, it was just dark.”

After dragging the drunk back, the group makes their way back into Dalzos’s lair. He saunters in from a back room, with his v-neck plunging to new, sleazy lows. With a look of shock, he asks why they brought the painting to the place he specifically didn’t want to get raided by the city guard. Hearing his concerns, they ask for directions to Arminius. They are told he stands watch at the northern gate, and that any reward they are offered should be appropriately distributed with consideration for a “consulting fee” of 20%. Thaelen tries to barter him down, but simultaneously agrees to pay the full 20% in Thieves’ Cant.

They seek out Arminius, and Thaelen decides to hang back a little. He begins resting against a lamp post while the rest of the party talks to the silver dragonborn they had met earlier. While disappointed he didn’t get to exact holy vengeance, Arminius is pleased that the painting has been recovered. He has been granted authority to produce a reward they can collect from city hall, but needs to know a name to address it to. After a short pause, their champion, and voice of reason, steps forward: “We’re Krug ‘n’ Krew.” Thaelen falls in the snow and begins yelling to himself. Used to the wizard’s antics, the group also turns the darkling over to Arminius. The group decides to collect their 42 gold, and returns to the tavern.

Dalzos collects his fee from the party, and invites them to stay a while. They chat for a while about the state of affairs in Barovia and about Zehrulius, as promised. Zehrulius Tiberion von Strahdovich is the nephew of Eskellia who is a cousin of Count Strahd. He acts as a trader by day, but spends most of his days in the family estate in Ravensloft. Dalzos confirms several of the party’s suspicions, and believe the Strahd family is linked to many strange occurrences.

There are drastically increased numbers of ravens in the area, which should have long since migrated north. According to legend, they’re said to ferry the souls of the dead to the Raven Queen. Despite the freezing temperatures, a slow, rolling fog emerges most mornings, especially near Ravensloft. Finally, Dalzos has heard rumors of strange marching lights emerging from graves under the full moon. The group scans around the bar, and notices several “lucky” icons hung to the walls: mirrors, rabbit feet, and horseshoes to name a few.

As that chat winds down, the thin man offers Dalzos an icon of his patron. He produces a striped, J-shaped piece of candy and reminds the thief to “be a good boy.”

After a few days of rest and relaxation, the party finds themselves wandering the streets of Trostenwald. As they walk, they see a young gnome running around acting as the town crier. He frantically approaches them and asks where he can find a “Krug ‘n’ Krew.” Krug nods in approval, and they follow the man to the magistrate’s estate.

The magistrate, Otto von Westerwilt is overjoyed that the painting has been returned, and the thief apprehended. For their service, he hosts a small bruncheon consisting of flapjacks, eggs, coffee, and the second cheapest bottle of wine you’d find at a nice hotel bar. The portly, and far too cheery man grants their request, and writes a short introductory note to grant them an audience with Strahd. He gives them a few provisions to make the journey south, including a bottle of wine and the use of one of his carts. Thaelen asks if they can get “one for the road,” and Otto falls into a fit of high-pitched laughter. The party joins in for a hefty chuckle, and then poses for a freeze-framed high-five to wait until the next session.

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