D&D 5E Curse of Strahd - Vallaki (spoilers possible)

Savage Wombat

Adventurer
My players, whom I love dearly, are not the most explorative bunch. I am concerned that Vallaki is going to be largely overlooked if they don't start poking around.

Anyone have suggestions on how to turn the adventure seeds in the area into a narrative? I want to use as much of this content as possible.
 

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I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
My players, whom I love dearly, are not the most explorative bunch. I am concerned that Vallaki is going to be largely overlooked if they don't start poking around.

Anyone have suggestions on how to turn the adventure seeds in the area into a narrative? I want to use as much of this content as possible.

The hooks in Barovia that point at Vallaki are basically Ireena and her brother. If you're using the Plea for Help hook or have the players stumble on the body in Svalich Woods, that could give some incentive.

Vallaki could also be seen as something of a refuge, if Strahd gets personal - a place to flee a little farther from him.

Plus, Vallaki could be a place hiding some of the treasures needed to kill him - nothing's stopping you from sticking a Sunsword in the cult's basement or whatever.
 



Koren

Explorer
I think the adventure assumes that your PCs are going to go there because Ismark wants them to help him get Ireena there. My party latched onto Ismark as the only friendly face in a strange land so that's not much of a stretch. There's a whole lot to do in and around Vallaki, and with its central location, it's a great jumping off point for the rest of the sandbox.

I've started putting together my notes for running Vallaki in my game. Here's what I've got so far:

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Good parties will likely want to oust the Burgomaster after the first festival event, or accept being ousted from the town by him if they speak up/step in but then back down from a big fight with Izek & friends

Based on the choices they have available, they can get cut off from Vallaki and lose the ability to learn about some sub-plot threads.

Things that need to happen soon after they get to Vallaki in order to introduce further areas to explore before they could get cut off from Vallaki for a while

  • From the rumors section, have the wolves in the woods, the Lake and Bluto come up quickly.
  • The time is still not right for Dream Biscuits or the Old Bonegrinder. After the party is level 5 or 6 is better
  • Mention the Vistani camp outside of town more than once, bring up Argynvostholt, and the ruined village (Berez) early but don’t emphasize them.
  • Hook for the Winery - Luvash at the Vistani Camp or Urwin at The Blue Water Inn (Urwin more likely if they’re traveling with Ireena and Ismark)
  • This is likely the most level-appropriate of the adventure sites at this point and I'll likely make this look like an appealing route to take, especially if this site or the NPCs involved are one of the Fortunes of Ravenloft
  • Ensure the party gets a personal invitation to the festival by the Burgomaster of Vallaki so they have a reason to get back to the town before the festival if they go off on one or other subplots
  • Point them to the Church, and the Bones of St. Andral quest
  • Could get them TPK’d if not run right
  • Coffin Maker’s Shop intro text seems to indicate that Henrik will just give up the bones location in fear if the party breaks into his place
  • He may tell the party about the Vampire Spawns in the attic but stresses that there are SIX of them
  • Again, Stress that there are SIX - Doru was only ONE
  • Creative parties may try arson at this point
  • I’m going to give that a real good chance to work (make the encounter easy - maybe kill/drive off 3 or 4 of the spawn) if they do.
  • The Vampire attack and stuff is assumed to happen if the PCs are in town for 3 days or more and don't do anything that prevents it. That’s after the Festival of the Blazing Sun event, likely the next night.
  • Its also likely a TPK if the party is present.
  • We can change it to something that makes more sense if there’s a regime change in Vallaki prior to that night which is likely

The Festival of the Blazing Sun
With one or more good aligned characters, this event likely changes the face of Vallaki.


  • If they do nothing, then Izek comes after Ireena later that night, and they can either let her go or get into it with Izek, likely leading to the same potential outcomes as disrupting the festival festivities.
  • Most likely, this leads to a throw-down with Izek and some guards on the spot, while the Burgomaster goes to ground in his home with most of his guards around him.
  • The party is either beaten, in which case they are stripped and thrown from town
  • Or wins, but then retreats to rest, during which time Wachter steps in and finishes the job. By the time their short or long rest is over, it’s a done deal.
  • Or they immediately assault the Burgomaster's mansion which would have the townsfolk cowering in their homes, seemingly for the rest of the adventure (as written). I'd amend that to Lady Wachter "restores order" while the characters are capturing/killing the Burgomaster and his son. Again, it’s a done deal.
  • So either scenario, unless the party has been ousted from town by Izek and the Burgomaster survives, Lady Wachter ends up in charge. That’s when the freakiness starts as devil cults start seducing/using/enslaving the townsfolk. I don't think there's any reason for them to stay hidden. There are likely 2 cult members for every 7 adult townsfolk (commoners) and enough cult fanatics to ensure there is no contest.

Notes for running the Wachter regime in Vallaki

  • Introduce the cultists quickly.
  • Reinforcement guards rushing toward the party are ambushed and slaughtered in the streets by cultists wearing brass devil masks who then tip their dagger blades to the party and run off.
  • At first, lead the party to believe they've inspired a revolution on their own, but soon enough they'll be summoned to "kiss the ring" of Lady Wachter.
  • If they go after the Burgomaster themselves, Wachter has the Burgomaster’s mansion surrounded by brass devil-masked cultists when the party comes out. Otherwise they receive a letter which summons them to her home as they are resting
  • She will have a strong guard force likely including some minor devils the cultists have been "gifted" by Strahd.
  • Play up the brass devil masks on the cultists some more. No one in town knows who is a cultist and who isn’t.
  • Stress that a direct assault would be suicide, she’s better defended than the Burgomaster
  • The cultists used the ensuing chaos to settle a few petty scores with neighbors, but for the most part, the fighting is over quickly, leaving the common villagers cowering in their homes and the church, and a new evil in charge.

  • Lady Wachter may quickly betray the party, especially if they've shown themselves to be enemies of Strahd.
  • She uses the Vistani to do this even if she is in charge. Plausible deniability
  • If you don't want her to immediately turn on the party, then she makes a point of having them make a public show of supporting her rule.
  • She will offer some minor favors (titles/positions in her regime) to sweeten the pot.

This is supposed to be night 3 in town, and if the bones haven’t been returned, the attack on the church should happen the next night. If it's Wachter's first night in charge and that happens, what does that do to her powerbase? If it happens, then many of her new subjects are going to be slaughtered needlessly before they can be corrupted or exploited. I think it makes sense for Strahd change tactics here, he's a vicious monster, but he's also smart, and knows that weakening his vessel's powerbase at this point is a terrible idea.


  • Instead of the attack on the church, if the vampire spawn are still alive they become Wachter’s secret police.
  • Slow-play a PC insurgency to take back Vallaki?
  • Should quickly turn into "Watch how fast innocent townsfolk start dying to the new Vallaki vampiric secret police" just for talking to or being seen with the PCs
  • In this scenario, Strahd's use of the vampire spawn is more surgical, in small teams or as individuals, sending them after the PCs known acquaintances and allies, while the PCs are plotting how to get to Wachter.
  • It likely ends with one or more friendly NPCs or NPC groups the parties have interacted with captured to be used as leverage to force the party into accepting Wachter, or worse, slaughtered to isolate the characters.
  • Or, if the party's looking bored with Vallaki, it might be time to have them head toward Krezk where they can get on with the main plot, perhaps coming back to liberate Vallaki just before the big showdown with Strahd.

Other big changes to prep for/keep in mind (don’t give out any info on Amber Temple)

  • Replace the Amber Temple with a similar amount of experience in devils, cultists, and an odd abomination or two and just scrap any plot threads that lead toward it.
  • It cuts out a big dungeon crawl right before the biggest dungeon crawl of the module (the castle),
  • Patrina Velikovna subplot unnecessary.

Appropriate challenges post-Vallaki and Wizard of Wines.

  • Move them in the direction of Krezk and the Abbey
  • Follow up the Winery with the druid circle prior to Strahd’s visit there (druids and berserkers return even if the party raids the place so if they leave the tree, the ritual can still happen later)
  • Van Richten’s Tower
  • Other locations of the Fortunes of Ravenloft might be appropriate here
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Daern

Explorer
It may be helpful to think in terms of a timeline.
Here's a timeline I made for Vallaki.


Day 1: PCs arrive to see work underway for the next festival. They will probably visit the Church (and discover the bone theft, possibly visit coffinmaker), and the Tavern (patrons are savoring their wine, meet Innkeeper Urwin and perhaps get asked to help get more wine delivered, meet Rictavio and the Wachter Bros. Here rumours about the Lake, Wolves, etc.
Day: Visit Baron, Vistani camp, Wachterhaus Book Club
Day 3 Festival of the Burning Sun: ruined by rain, Lars the laughing guard is punished, Wachter Bros set off a tiger rampage.
Day 3 Vampire attack on the church if the Bones of St. Andral are not found.
 

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