The small Varisian town of Sandpoint is in turmoil. First, the opening ceremony for their new cathedral was disrupted by attacking goblins and then an ancient evil was exposed under the very streets of the town. Now, rumors of armies of giants on the move and streams of refugees from the north fuel the rising disquiet and paranoia.
The party members have been adventuring around Sandpoint, striking out at goblins or bandits and performing other simple tasks to aid the town. Tonight, they eat and drink in the Rusty Dragon, a tavern catering heavily to adventurers and run by retired adventurer Ameiko Kaijitsu. Their table is approached by Sandpoint mayor Kendra Deverin and Sheriff Belor Hemlock, who explain that some travelers, likely Sczarzi, have camped outside the east gate of Sandpoint and are harassing passersby, extorting money or wine with threats of curses.
Sheriff Hemlock sent a contingent of the Guard to evict them, but the guardsmen came back speaking sympathetically of the visitors, almost as though they had been magically charmed. Mayor Deverin is willing to try once more to rid Sandpoint of these pests without bloodshed, and now, she wants to hire some adventures to deliver a message to the camp: be on their way by dawn or she will personally burn their wagons to the ground.
The party approaches the campsite, and they find about a dozen men and women gathered around a crackling bonfire, drinking, singing, dancing, and telling stories. They are greeted by an old man who introduces himself as Stanimir and claims that his group has been waiting for the party to arrive, having been sent to fetch them to lift a curse on his people’s Lord. While he does not have all of the answers, he asks the party to accompany him back to speak to Madame Eva, a wise old seer who he says can explain the situation. When asked where they are going, he names the land Barovia; no one in the party has even heard of this land, much less has visited it.
The party agrees, and they set out before dawn. After several days travel, a deep fog surrounds the caravan, though this does not seem to bother the travelers at all. When the fog lifts, they seem to be somewhere else, where the trees are tall and dark and the sunlight seems somewhat muted. The road is puddled and muddy, and a subtle dread seems to permeate the very air. The caravan approaches a massive gate, flanked by two towering headless statues. The iron gates open for the lead wagon, then screech closed again after the last wagon passes.
The caravan continues along the muddy road, but before long, Bjornica recognizes the familiar odor of death. She follows it about fifteen feet into the woods and finds the mauled body of a man half-buried in the brush. He appears to have been dead for several days, and his commoner’s clothes are ripped and shredded by claws. Paw prints, seemingly of giant wolves surround the body, but only crows have eaten from the corpse. The body clutches a crumpled envelope in his hand.
As Bjornica examines the body, she suddenly hears the howls of wolves in the woods. Hesitating for a moment, she can hear them moving closer. She grabs the envelope and runs back to the wagons, which have not made much progress during the time she was gone. She opens the envelope and finds a letter.
The mists reveal a village ahead, the road leading through the middle of town. As the caravan passes through, the party can see people peeking out of windows, but no one approaches the caravan. Leaving the village behind them, the caravan turns to the southwest, crossing over a river and reentering the woods.
A few more miles end in a crossroads, with a road to the northwest labeled “Tser Pool”, a road to the east labeled “Barovia Village”, and a road to the southwest labeled “Ravenloft/Vallaki”. There is also a gallows and a small graveyard. While the gallows was empty as they approach it, the party hears a creaking noise from behind them once they pass it. Looking back, Bjornica sees herself hanging from the noose while everyone else sees a stranger’s body; the corpse turns slowly in the breeze, fixing its dead eyes on the caravan. When it is touched, it melts away to nothing.
The caravan doesn’t stop, continuing on to the northwest. The road gradually turns into a twisted, muddy, path between the trees, deeply rutted by wagon wheels. Eventually, even that ends along with the daylight at the banks of a river which widens to form a lake. There is a campsite here, with several wagons and tents. The party’s traveling companions gladly join the other Vistani at the campfire, while Stanimir points out the largest of the tents and tells the party that Madame Eva awaits them there.
Upon entering her tent, Madame Eva greets the party by name, describing each member. She then offers to perform a Tarokka reading for the party to tell their fortune. Her cards tell describe three items that will be useful in the fight against Lord Strahd, along with an ally that can help them. They also identify where Strahd will be awaiting them, but all of the answers are maddeningly vague. When asked for clarification, the old fortuneteller just cackles and tells the party that while the cards do not lie, figuring out the answers is the party’s job. The group leaves the tent and returns to the fire.
There they here the story of a powerful wizard who came to fight Strahd over a year earlier. He raised an army of peasants and marched up to the gates of Castle Ravenloft. His army fled in terror before the castle’s master, but the wizard and vampire fought back and forth, first with spells and then with weapons. The wizard was defeated, and his body was cast down a thousand feet to the river below, where not even his corpse was found.
The rest of the night passes uneventfully, and the party leave the encampment safely the next morning, walking back to the village of Barovia to investigate the writer of the letter Bjornica found the previous day. When they reach the gallows, Icarius sees himself hanging there, but again the body melts away when touched. The party decides to burn the gallows down, which proves to be tricky with the damp wood. Eventually it does burn, though, and they manage to destroy it.
Taking the road back toward Barovia Village, they meet a skeletal rider on an equally skeletal steed. It warns them of vandals on the road, burning Lord Strahd’s property. Icarius claims responsibility and the skeleton dismounts to attack. It and its mount are defeated, but the decapitated skull returns to life as a new voice speaks through its bony jaws. Strahd himself taunts the party, inviting them to visit his castle. Icarius refuses the invitation by smashing the skull, and the remainder of the walk to the village goes quietly.
As they approach the village, the mists seem to press in closer, to the point that they can scarcely see the houses on either side of the road. They hear a plaintive cry for help, and find two children standing in the road. They introduce themselves as Rose and Thorn, and say that there is a monster living in their basement, and asking the party to find their parents and baby brother. Icarius immediately agrees to help the children, and the party enters their house, leaving the children on the front porch.
Inside, the house is silent as the party searches for a way into the basement. Room after room, the house looks well-furnished, but closer examination reveals demented details and motifs.