Two Tales of Dr. Van Richten

I had a horrifying moment halfway through the campaign when the party finally got their hands on Rudolph van Richten’s diary. Like many of my “Oh shit, what’s going on?” DM moments, this one came out of not reading the book closely enough and covering the details that were given in separate sections of the book. One of the biggest challenges I had DMing Curse of Strahd (and, probably a problem many DMs have with the hardcovers), is the disjointed way information is related. Other DMs’ guides have been invaluable in avoiding this, but it’s nearly unavoidable even for the best of us, and I am most definitely not that.

Thanks for Bearing with the Page Flipping

One of the worst offenders besides Dr. van Richten, whom I’ll return to in a moment, is the story of the Abbot in Krezk and the Mongrelfolk. The story of the abbey is related in the chapter introduction (page 143), and sprinkled throughout the abbey’s sections’ descriptions (pp. 147—155). There is more vital information provided in Appendix D, Monsters and NPCs, but again split between the Abbot’s entry (p. 225), and the Mongrelfolk (p. 234). When we got to the Abbey, one of the party’s first questions was, “Where did the mongrlfolk come from? Why are they like this?” I was already a bit unprepared this session, as I had expected the party to go to the winery before getting into Krezk, and had planned accordingly. Of course our adventurers consistently preferred to ignore the Reece’s Pieces I’d laid in front of them, talked their way into Krezk, and bolted for the abbey, leaving me frantically flipping through the abbey’s pages instead. I had read the entire book (many sections more than once) while prepping, so I vaguely recalled the answer (lepers the abbot healed, they asked to be made even more special, more than human, &c. &c.), but for the life of me, could not find the text that related this information (for the record, of course it’s in the abbot’s section of Appendix D). I don’t remember what vague story the party got as I scrambled for the answer, but I ended up following up and retconning by email when I found the right page later that night.

The Problem with Rudolph van Richten’s Journal

When the party acquired the burnt journal pages, I handed a player a print out of the pages, not thinking much of it, they had been curious about who this van Richten person was, and I’m sure were excited to get another piece of the puzzle. When our party’s sorcerer got to reading the pages aloud, however, I had a definite internal “Wait, what?” moment as he read the passage about van Richten unleashing a horde of undead on the Vistani camp. Where did that come from? There is a huge split between the story the journal tells and what is related only a few pages earlier in Ezmerelda’s story. This time, not only was I hit with information split across multiple sections, but the stories were in direct conflict with each other! According to Ezmerelda, the doctor spared her family once he’d gotten all the information he could out of them, continuing on to pursue the vampire who held his son. That mercy inspired her to seek him out, to become a vampire hunter herself and the good doctor’s eventual protégé. I have no idea how a mistake like this made it to print, I  know I have myself to blame for missed it during my own preparation, but that seems absurdly negligent on the part of editing.

In the end, the party didn’t spend much time with Rictavio/van Richten, and they never point-blank asked about the discrepancy between his and Ezmerela’s stories about that fateful night. One DM on Reddit posted an alternative journal entry which I would use if I run the campaign again.

Another option might be to reveal the document has been tampered with: when Ezmerelda read it, it showed the “real” story, but Strahd or Rahadin got his hands on it at some point (perhaps while Ezmerelda was in the castle?), and edited it with a minor spell of some sort that tells a different story, intending to sow distrust between the party and a potential ally. With that, a dispel magic or similar spell would reveal the illusion and you can pass along the alternative version linked above.

Another DM suggested replacing the journal with a draft of Guide to Vampire‘s introduction which I like quite a bit, as I agree it seems a bit careless for the very careful doctor to have left pages of his journal behind like that.

Curse of Strahd – 6 – Reading the Tarokka in Krezk

In which the group gains an extra player (who takes up Ismark) and the party gets their fortunes told after deciding that the monastery in Krezk is perhaps not the most fitting place to leave Ireena.

For some time after Ezmeralda has picked up her cards and abandoned the room in the Abbey’s hospital wing, the party sits in silence, pondering what they just learned. “So. Now what?” Grismar asks as he shakes the last drop of wine out of his water skin and into his mouth.

“Get out of town, I reckon.” Fillegan says. “Ideally without being seen. We’ve not made any friends here, spelling the Burgomaster and running past the guards the way we did.” Chand smiles. “That’ll be easy to remedy once we visit the Wizards of Wine. I am sure no one will stay angry long when they’re presented with a cask or two of a good vintage. The challenge is to ensure that our dwarven companion does not drink it all, before we deliver the goods. Then again, there is that fascinating mansion associated with the order of knights hat we could visit. I expect we could learn interesting things there.”

Fitzworth clears his throat. “You overlook the most obvious matter. The abbott here plays fast and loose with nature’s laws. We can’t just let him continue to build and breed mongrelfolk. Between this abbey and Yester Hill, this area needs to learn that nature is a force to be reckoned with!”

Sumu looks alarmed “I – I do believe you’re oversimplifying things. It’s not like the abbott is acting out of evil intent, Fitzworth. He is aiming to help people in need. To give them what they want.” Fitzworth’s jaw muscles twitch. “That doesn’t mean he should be able to take liberties like this! He is creating monsters! Don’t they always say that the road to ruin is paved with good intentions? Where do you think making monsters and pacifying Strahd will lead!” Sumu squares her skinny shoulders and faces the druid. “Then what d-do you intend to do, Fitzworth Tinkertonk Tiddlywink, Druid of the Treewhistle Gnomes and Guardian of Hobbleknot. D-do you intend to stop him? To punish him? By what right? And by what means? Does he cause suffering? Or does he relieve it? Do you believe that you are capable of judgment where others are not? Because we will not execute a holy man just because you find his flock off-putting!” She takes a deep breath and sounds much calmer when she continues. “Besides, problems of the church should be solved by the church, and neither you nor I serve the Morning Lord. It isn’t our place.”

“Talk to the priest then.” The room goes quiet after Kurwin’s words. “The one in Vallaki. Or the one in Barovia. Whichever. We must focus on Ireena… Tatjana. She is the key.”

“So you believe what the Vistani woman told us?” Fillegan asks Kurwin. “You think she is to be trusted?” “Reckon so.” Kurwin says. “Anyone who hunts undead is on my side. If she and this Doctor Richter hunt Strahd, then so much the better.” Chand nods “Her powers of sight certainly speak in her favor. She was ignorant of what we learned about Ireena’s identity when we saw Cresk’s fountain, but her reading of the cards seemed to point to it anyway, and it was already obvious that something at gallows’ hill bears investigating.” He arches an eyebrow at Sumu, who looks away quickly.

Fillegan holds up a finger. “Let us get this straight. The first card referred to the mansion of the dragon knights. Something to do with history. The second card: we find hope at the crossroads of life and death, which may be that place with the gallows, yes? Third: a weapon, for which we must search for a skeleton of a warrior, watched over by gargoyles. Fourth,” The little rogue nods to Ireena “That’s you. Evil’s bride. You’re staying with us, love. Like it or no. Fifth. He – Strahd, I take it – haunts the tomb of who he envies the most. Should we assume… Sergej?” Another nod at Ireena “Her late betrothed? Murdered by Strahd?”

Grismar rummages through his backpack, and blurts out. “Did we not also promise somewhat to that priestly fellow in the funny town with all the festivals?” Sumu nods “Complaints of graverobbery, I seem to recall. He had a suspect too.”

Fitzworth snorts loudly “Will any of you spare a single thought for Vasilka? Hand-built and destined for the cold clutches of the heinous figure which seems to be everyone’s favorite enemy? What do we do about her?” Chand puts a hand on Fitzworth’s shoulder. “Fights on many fronts are seldom won, they say in Halruaa. We must choose our battles wisely. Between your designs on the druids of Yester Hill and your concerns over the children of Vallaki, as well as all the other matters at hand, perhaps resolution of the creature’s fate as a sop for Strahd must wait a while. Like Kurwin said, perhaps the church itself will offer an outcome.”

“I shall speak a word to Father Lucien when we return to Vallaki.” Sumu offers. “But before we set out, I should probably beg the abbott for a bottle of sacramental wine, to tide Grismar over until we reach the winery.” The dwarf gives her a purple-stained grin, and closes his pack. ‘What’re we waiting for, then? Let’s go!”