Call to Adventure: “The Descent”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Horror and suspense

System: D&D 5th Edition (requires Ravenloft setting)

Ideal Party Size: 4-6

Recommended Levels: 1

Concept

So you want to run the campaign: “Curse of Strahd?” But what if all of the player characters are from different locations on the world map and have little to no relation to one another? Here are some ideas on how to quickly get your PCs together and traveling within the Demiplane of Dread in a more cinematic way!

The following is an alteration and elaboration of the “Creeping Fog” section (CoS pg. 22) of the adventure book, and was inspired by countless horror games. The goal is to invoke a dreamlike atmosphere, establish a bleak and oppressive tone, and have the characters constantly questioning their own sanity and perceptions.

Spooky and somber background music is entirely optional, but highly recommended!

Introduction

At the very beginning, you have a number of PCs spread across a wide campaign world. The original adventure describes how the Barovian fog mysteriously whisks the characters away while you are out camping in the wilderness, but this can be easily adapted and tailored to a wide variety of unique settings for the individual PCs, allowing a more personalized introduction.

Setup

Refer to the “Mists of Ravenloft” (CoS pg. 23) for more information on the negative effects of traversing the fog. Hint at the adverse nature of the mist in order to dissuade the players from straying off the path. Once the players are introduced to one another, the fog becomes less of an active nuisance, but remains in place to serve as a barrier at the edges of the starting area, whichever that may be.

Development

The following are examples of how you can transport a character into Ravenloft in the middle of their typical day. The goal is to trick them into following the plot railroad, and then bring in the mist to seal off their escape. Keep this segment short and simple; you don’t want to spend too much time on a single player.

Urban Setting

If a player character starts off in an urban setting, give them someone to chase. Draw their focus away from the environment and upon a singular point by enticing their avarice, lust, or other base urges. Alternatively, flip the script around and create a scenario in which the PC is the object of pursuit. Perhaps they are wanted for a crime or attempting to flee a relationship that went sour. Below are some sample hooks.

  • The telltale jingle of coins from a wealthy merchant’s purse entices the character to tail them.
  • An attractive maid or coxswain catches the character’s eye with a reciprocated come-hither stare.
  • Provoke their wrath by having a nameless NPC steal something from them and run off.

Allow the scenario to unfold with a series of appropriate checks before ripping them from their familiar world. This incident incident can range from gradual and cryptic to sudden and traumatic. Here are some examples.

  • If they successfully woo the object of their affection, simply relocate them during their satisfied slumber.
  • After they lose track of their quarry or successfully shake off their tail, they notice the fog creeping in and obscuring their surroundings. Their attempts to reorient themselves are fruitless as the surrounding buildings appear to drift away with each passing second. This baffling phenomenon continues until they hear the sounds of their boots crunching upon a gravel road that they don’t recognize.
  • If they manage to catch their targets, immediately turn the tables and trust them into an overwhelming encounter with strange creatures. As a blade fatally slips into their heart and the warmth leaves their bodies, they suddenly awaken in a new location, clutching at a non-existent wound.
  • They player stumbles onto the main street, gasping for air. They turn backwards to confirm whether they are still being followed. But before they can react, they are suddenly face-to-face with a speeding horse-drawn cart that collides straight into them, enveloping their sight in utter darkness. They jolt back to consciousness with an involuntary scream, surrounded by an unending wilderness.

Rural or Natural Setting

Similar to the aforementioned setups, allow the PC to wander and interact with their environments. Use a simple diversion to misdirect them as the fog creeps in and warps the setting. For instance:

  • While mining for ore from a nearby mountain, the fog suddenly cascades over the hills and envelops the character in its ethereal embrace. They attempt to flee but become hopelessly lost. Eventually they set foot upon a path that they had never traversed before.
  • After successfully tracking down and slaying some wild game, they begin carving up the body. After several minutes of concerted effort, they realize that the sky has grown darker and a foreboding haze has begun creeping up all around them.
  • A loved one wanders out at night and beckons them to follow. They attempt to catch this particular important person, but are then swept up by the mischievous mist.

The Sea

On the off-chance that a character began their journey at sea, getting them into Ravenloft is very simple. Devise a means or throwing them overboard. As they fight the currents and struggle to catch their breath, they violently breach the water’s surface and find themselves transported to the otherworld. Beyond the shore of the  barely-waist deep puddle they are now lying inside is the same gravel pathway.

Bringing The Pieces Together

After each of the mini-scenarios are concluded, read the following flavor text to the players.

“Your feet crunch against loose rocks as you follow the gravel path, taking great care avoid the boundaries of the obscuring mist. The milky white cloud erects a three sided wall to both sides and your back, funneling you along this lonely road. As you cautiously traverse the unfamiliar environment you observe that the miasma expands and contracts rhythmical, as if alive and breathing. Eventually, your ears catch the coarse grinding of multiple footsteps gradually growing out of sync with your own. And within the nearly impenetrable barrier you spot the outlines of other humanoid figures.”

At this point, all the players are made aware of each other, and have been brought together by a cruel destiny. This trail leads directly onto the Old Svalich Road (“Areas of Barovia” Section A, CoS pg. 33). But where they go from here is entirely up to them.

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