The druids of Yester Hill are an abomination! Follow this guide to spice up the summoning ritual of Wintersplinter and show your players the darkness of Yester Hill!
Let’s spice up the summoning ritual at Yester Hill and give your players an experience they won’t soon forget!
Today we’re bumping up the fear factor of Yester Hill, making the Blood Spear of Kavan more important, and we’re also wrapping in the Martikovs. As always, you can get all the information you need from the video below, the text below that, or you can get the full color PDF over on Patreon!
Get the full color PDF over on Patreon!
The druids of Yester Hill are an enigmatic group within Curse of Strahd. Their involvement in the narrative is spread across multiple chapters, but little information is given regarding their motivations and history. That they worship Strahd as a god, and are being manipulated by Baba Lysaga to her own ends, is mostly what is known of them.
This chapter aims to tie up the loose narrative threads within the chapter, and will refocus the druid’s summoning ritual around the Gulthias tree. Kavan and his blood spear will also take on a much more important role.
An Alternate History
Hundreds of years ago, the forests and mountains of Barovia were home to a tribe of wild nomadic peoples. The “Forest Folk,” as they were called by those who lived in villages, had chosen to eschew all trappings of civilized life, and instead sought solace and worship in the natural order of the land.
Lead by a powerful barbarian, Kavan, the tribe took to calling itself “The Kavani.” See the Amber Temple chapter of this guide for more information on the Kavani tribe.
When the mists enshrouded Barovia, Kavan and several of his warriors left their village in order to drive back the darkness and restore light to the land. None of them returned, and none of their bodies were ever recovered. Kavan’s name and memory became legend, as did stories of his infamous weapon, a spear made of black iron.
Within a few generations, the Kavani tribe began to suffer from internal strife. Two sects had sprung up: one that adhered to the old ways of natural harmony, and one that saw a Strahd as the avatar of the land, and deserving of their worship. Through a violent schism, the Kavani tribe was decimated. Those that worshiped Strahd were driven out, and came to call the forest near the Luna River their home.
Eventually, this offshoot of the Kavani tribe grew to become the druids and berserkers of Yester Hill.
A Lost Gift
After their departure from the Kavani tribe, the druids of Yester Hill continued in their descent into darkness. Their connection with nature—while strained—remained with them, and they often took on the shapes of forest animals for ritual purposes. This changed when the druids began to cultivate a Gulthias tree that they discovered in the forest. At that point, darkness truly took hold within them. Their ties to the natural world were severed, and their ability to change their shape was lost.
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Areas of Yester Hill
This section will cover revisions to the areas of Yester Hill. Any area not listed here should be run as it is written in the module, or modified to your liking.
Y2. Berserker Cairns
The Blood Spear of Kavan is no longer located in this area, but can instead be found in area Y3.
Y3. The Druid’s Circle
In the circle of stones stands a twisted effigy of wood and vines, resembling Strahd von Zarovich. Embedded where its heart would be is a spear of black iron, continuously dripping with blood, grasped by foul roots twisting up the statue. The echo of a furious battle cry seems to linger in the air—raging to break free.
On the ground in front of the effigy you glimpse a woman kneeling on the ground, her chin grasped by a figure clad in bloody hides behind her. The bloody figure wears a headdress of twisted antlers and holds a fist-sized gem in front of the woman’s face, whispering in her ear. You can see tears streaking down her face.
The druids of Yester Hill have stolen one of the gems used by the Martikov family to give life to the grapevines cultivated at the Wizard of Wines. They know that this gem is precious to the Martikovs, and thus want to use it—and their lives—as bargaining chips.
The captive woman is Stefania Martikov, who was taken hostage along with her son, Claudiu, in the latest attack on the winery. Keshgar, a blood druid (see the full PDF for this stat block), is forcing Stefania to watch her son’s blood flow through the tree’s roots and into the effigy in order force her into giving up her family’s secret. He is taunting her and holding the gem out in front of her, telling her that all of this can be reversed if she simply gives him what he wants.
If the ritual in area Y4 is interrupted, the gem becomes Keshgar’s only remaining leverage against the Martikovs.
If the characters interrupt this scene, Keshgar immediately attacks, and Stefania cowers in fear until the fight is over. If the party did not free Claudiu before coming to area Y3, the ritual immediately commences and completes after six turns, animating Wintersplinter.
Y4. Gulthias Tree
Half a dozen humans, smeared with blue-gray mud, shout chants at a monstrous black tree while locking arms in a ring around it. Half a dozen more dance around them, swinging their axes in ecstasy. Dripping with sap—or worse—a maw-like hole gapes at the base of the trunk. Inside of it, being pierced by dozens of barbs slick with blood, is a teenage boy.
The six berserkers attack intruders immediately. The six druids only interrupt their chant if someone tries to breach their ring around the tree. Breaking through their chain requires a contested Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check; the druids have advantage as long as their chain holds.
The boy inside the tree’s maw is Claudiu Martikov. He and his mother were taken captive during the latest attack on the Wizard of Wines. The druids plan to use his blood to fuel their ritual to summon the tree blight, Wintersplinter. See the Druid’s Ritual special even for more information.
The ritual to animate Strahd’s effigy in area Y3 now takes place at the Gulthias tree in area Y4. This vampiric abomination requires a sacrifice of blood to grant false life to Wintersplinter, funneling it through its roots.
In order to power the ritual, the druids have placed Claudiu Martikov inside a large opening in the side of the tree—its sacrificial maw. Once the ritual begins, Claudiu is pierced by spikes that grow from the tree’s bark, which begin to drain him of blood. Throughout the ritual, his blood is funneled into bulbous black fruit that hangs from the tree’s branches, and through its roots into Wintersplinter. The ritual concludes after six rounds of combat, when Claudiu is drained of his last drop of blood and dies.
While it has a victim, on initiative count 10 (losing all ties) the Gulthias tree sprouts 1d4 – 2 vine blights, 1d6 – 2 needle blights, and 1d8 – 2 twig blights within 60 feet of it (acting on initiative count 20). From the fifth round of combat, any creature starting its turn within 30 feet of the tree must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 1 minute by the mist of black blood bursting from the fruit.
At any time during combat, a character can determine how much time is left in the ritual by succeeding on a DC 11 Intelligence (Nature) or a DC 13 Wisdom (Insight) check.
Freeing the Claudiu requires a successful DC 16 Strength (Athletics) check as an action or dealing 50 damage to the tree in one round.
A creature pushed into the empty maw must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or become restrained. Each round spent in the maw causes one level of exhaustion. The ritual must begin anew if the tree has no victim for 1 full round. The druids sacrifice themselves to continue the ritual, if necessary.
If the druids successfully complete their ritual, Kavan’s soul is absorbed from his spear (see The Blood Spear of Kavan special event) and Wintersplinter erupts from the wooden effigy in area Y3. It then stalks off to destroy the winery, as written in the module. If it succeeds at that, it will continue on to Vallaki where it will attempt to break through the town’s walls and destroy the Blue Water Inn.
Stopping the Ritual
The druid’s ritual can be stopped in one of three ways. At your discretion, you may add additional methods or let your players be creative and find a different way.
- All six druids around the Gulthias tree are killed.
- The effigy is destroyed.
- The Gulthias tree is destroyed.
If any of the above events take place, the ritual cannot be completed and the Gulthias tree’s roots detach themselves from the effigy. The druids cannot hold another ritual of this type for approximately one month.
The Blood Spear of Kavan
The druids have discovered the legendary blood spear of Kavan in the tombs in area Y2. Despite their separation from their original tribe, Kavan’s name still rings with power to the people of Yester Hill. The restless spirit of Kavan lingers in his spear, enraged with Strahd’s rule over the land he and his people once roamed freely.
The druids of Yester Hill plan to harness this fury, intending to fuel Wintersplinter with Kavan’s soul as a spirit of destruction. They feel Kavan’s fury at their intentions, but believe it will only make Wintersplinter stronger. The Blood Spear is currently embedded in the heart of the effigy in area Y3, in place of the winery gem.
The prospect of being used in the druids’ vile ritual, effectively being made into an instrument of Strahd worship, chokes Kavan like bile, and he knows it will destroy what is left of his soul. When the characters approach within 60 feet of the statue, Kavan senses their presence and telepathically contacts them. Read the following boxed text aloud
As you take a step forward, a savage voice fills your head and rings in your ears.
“YOU! You are not of my domain, but I can smell your fury against the devil of this land! Tear me from this monster’s heart and wield me against these misbegotten offspring of mine—I want to taste blood again!”
The blood spear rests in the statue 15 feet above ground. Climbing the statue requires a successful DC 13 Strength (Athletics) check, as the roots of the Gulthias tree seem to actively shift out of the grasp of anyone scrambling towards the spear. Tearing the blood spear from the statue requires a successful DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check.
If the party plucks the blood spear of Kavan from the effigy before stopping the druid’s ritual, the ritual can still be completed as long as the effigy is not destroyed. However, the resulting tree blight will have only half its hit points.
Only the Worthy
The spear can only be attuned with Kavan’s blessing, and he only judges the following characters worthy:
- Whoever pulls the blood spear from the effigy during combat.
- Whoever deals the most damage against the blood druid in area Y3.
- Whoever slays at least 3 creatures in a pitched battle within 24 hours while wielding the spear.
If the ritual to animate Wintersplinter is successfully concluded before the Blood Spear is retrieved, Kavan’s soul is absorbed by the tree blight and the spear loses all of its magical and sentient properties.