The party pushed on to the final level of the manor, first finding a room of bizarre relics collected by the cult, though these were ultimately left alone. A prison area was also briefly visited, revealing only a skeleton and a small amount of treasure in a golden ring on one bony finger.
The source of the chanting (He is the Ancient. He is the Land.) was finally revealed in the last room, much of it flooded by two feet of murky water, with a raised ledge around the room and a dais in the center featuring a bloody altar. An eroded cave contained a pile of plant matter and refuse.
After some careful exploration, Tannyll decided to leap onto the dais. At this time, the apparitions of chanting cultists appeared, beginning a new chant “One must die.” over and over again. This continued while the party discussed their options.
Finally, Tannyll merely stepped off of the dais and everything changed. The cultists called upon Lorghoth the Decayer, and the pile of refuse stirred itself to attack. The mound of plant matter shambled over, nearly laying Roger out early in the fight. Roger retaliated with a handful of vicious smites in turn, weakening the mighty entity, but not before it managed to nearly incapacitate him once again. Eventually the creature turned its attention to Olaf the barbarian, connecting with both viny appendages and enveloping his then-unconscious form. It was a small miracle that the monstrosity was disabled before managed to crush the warrior to death.
Then it turned out that the house above had turned against the adventurers. What was once a clean and well maintained first floor became decrepit and full of choking smoke, horrible traps, and swarms of rats. It took the party a while to find a reasonable escape path from the building, but with some close calls, they eventually made it back outside into the overcast morning.
Strahd himself was there to greet the party, congratulating them on surviving the domicile and dungeon, and sharing polite greetings with all as he exchanged introductions. He also made it clear to them as ruler of Barovia that their holding the deed to the Durst estate would be honored, and if they wished, they could use it as a residence during their stay in Barovia.
At questions, he mentioned that he could not send them back to their homes, though he did not elaborate much upon this. Finally, the count departed peacefully, and the remaining mist finally lifted, revealing the dreary village and the tall castle looming overhead.
Before he left, Strahd invited Ileyna to be his guest at Castle Ravenloft, and the half-elf accepted, the two departing together.
Overall I think things went reasonably well. The shambling mound was dicey, but with six players it was reasonably manageable. I’m not sure I like the final challenge section of leaving the house after the traps and smoke take over. It’s interesting in a way, but it’s all so passive that I think it needs some way to insert more intensity to the overall event. It might be more fun if the group is being persued by a shambling mound, perhaps?
Strahd was ok. I hoped for a little more menace, but I decided to dial back some plans to keep this first visit chiefly to introductions and some light manipulation.