Barovia Goes to the Birds
Curse of Strahd Session #0-1
By MARK WILSON
Welcome to my Curse of Strahd session report series! This is part of several installments that will take you through the entire campaign from my (and my character’s) perspective.
This follows my blog post on Writing Good Session Reports, which I’d encourage you to check out. These reports don’t always take my own advice, but it was in writing many of them that I formed tactics for getting the most out of them. Enjoy!
DM: A Friend
(Me) Ahk-wa – Female Aarakocra Ranger
Aial – Female Aarakocra Druid
Lhandroval – Male Aarakocra Sorcerer
Gwaihir – Male Aarakocra Bard
System, Setting, Adventure: D&D 5e, Barovia/Ravenloft, Curse of Strahd
Next: Session #2
Sessions #0 and 1
PC Levels: 1
We had previously decided upon the all-aarakocra route, as our DM, Aial’s player and I brainstormed it over drinks a few weeks ago, then the other two loved it in our Facebook chat, and one was already planning an aarakocra. We worked out the details below at the table before the session started.
The four aarakocra siblings – the eldest being Ahk-wa, who was born in the same clutch of eggs as Aial – at the time of the adventure is 12 years old. The brothers – who are twins – were born a couple years later in a different clutch.
Taken forcefully at a young age from their mountainous wilderness home, the four were conscripted into a circus as its “flying act,” and forced to stay by the circus’s corrupt leaders, who had kidnapped the group’s father and were keeping him hostage. All of them hated this, but they adapted to their life in the circus. Landrovar and Gwaihir, being younger and not having as much time in their natural habitat, took to the circus life and learned many customs of more civilized races. The older sisters were less enamored with these things, and Aial befriended the animals of the circus while Ahk-wa spent as much time in nearby wilderness as her slavers would allow, hunting for her own food instead of eating the food provided by the circus.
Aial learns one day that their father was not being held captive and had, in fact, already been killed. She overhears a conversation and learns that the only “hostage” is an urn containing their father’s ashes. She steals the urn. This then spurs an escape attempt, where several cruel circus employees are killed, and its tents burned to the ground. A friendly tortle janitor in the circus – Ploqwat – who was loyal to the group, provides them with some small gifts before their escape. As our adventure begins, the group is flying east into a forest toward some mountains, just east of the Sword Coast, on the run from the circus.
Consider these Ahk-wa’s personal takes on the characters. I don’t want to speak for my fellow players if any of the below is wrong:
Ahk-wa – the oldest, she resembles the reclusive, solitary nature of an archetypal aarakocra most closely. Cautious and skeptical, and protective of her siblings, her sole loyalties are to her family and her freedom. Unlike her sister Aial, she hunts animals, and does not befriend them.
Aial – Disdains many humans due to her time in the circus, and seems indifferent toward their habits and customs. Having befriended many of the circus animals, she’s more at home with them. Has a pet ferret she stole from the circus.
Gwaihir – having learned to be a performer to get by in the circus, Gwaihir also learned to dupe people out of their hard-earned money, and would often play them against one another with bribes, blackmail and trickery.
Lhandroval – The “face” of many of the schemes that his brother concocted, Lhandroval is a bit full of himself due to his time in the circus spotlight, and this confidence manifests itself in his outgoing nature and occasional indifference to apparent danger.
Into the Mists
Flying away from the circus escape toward the nearby mountains, Ahk-wa leads the group to the base of the mountains and finds a cave for them to make camp in. Around us, heavy mists. The brothers celebrate their escape and strike up a tune. Shortly into making camp, an ostentatiously dressed gentleman walks up to the camp, not hiding his presence. All but Landrovar hide themselves, while their brother strikes up a conversation. The gentleman seems confused and says he expected there to be more of us. Aial and Gwaihir eventually reveal themselves. The figure offers us a letter, which entreats us to the land of Barovia, where a a man (a Burgomaster, iirc), is losing the love of his life to a demonic tyrant, and a great amount of riches and renown await those who can save her. The gentlemen tells us to travel five hours west (oddly, the way we came from), and departs.
The brothers are excited at this prospect, and wish to acquire some of the wealth spoken of in the letter. They depart immediately – in the middle of the night – mistaking “five hours” for “five miles.” Ahk-wa provides the lone dissenting opinion, stating that the gold of these creatures is of no concern to the group, nor are there problems. But her family simply walks off, leaving her with no choice.
Sights From a Tree
The journey leads us further into mist, and after about an hour of travel, the type of tree changes. Ahk-wa flies high up and confirms that they’re in a different area of land than where they were previously. We do find a road, and – realizing the journey is longer than anticipated – make camp in a high tree along the road.
During the night, owls are seen, but more importantly, Aial sees two skeletons riding horses along the road. Still later into the night, we’re attacked by some swarms of bats. They’re dispatched easily enough, but upon killing the bats, we each hear a deep, omnipresent laughter. We discuss our plight in light of these events, continuing on the road in the morning due to lacking other options. Ahk-wa attempts to amend their goals to place an escape from this new land above that of their apparent quest to save the young “love” (Ireena, iirc). Her siblings seem unconcerned.
Ahk-wa takes point and flies up over the road. At one point she notices a rusty wolf trap that the wolves have seemingly avoided. They make note of this but continue on. Coming to a large gate with headless statues on either side, it opens but we find it unmanned. Passing through, we see a human corpse. The gate closes behind us and we’re confronted by a pack of wolves, with more materializing as the fight continues.
As we take to the air, the wolves are unable to reach most of us with their attacks. A large, red-eyed wolf also appears and is impervious to one of Ahk-wa’s attacks. When we kill the rest, it smiles directly at her and then disappears.
Gwaihir inspects the body, and finds another letter that is very similar to the one we received from the figure in the woods. This time, however, the doomed girl is referred to as the man’s “adopted daughter” instead of the love of his life. There’s an eerie similarity between them, as though one is a half-remembered copy of the other.
What Do Humans Eat?
Again having little to do but move forward, we come upon a town shortly thereafter and get a bird’s eye view of the mostly deserted town. Flying closer, we find the houses mostly boarded up, and only two human children – about 10 and 8 – who seem a bit off, but direct us toward a large house at the end of the town. They say it’s their parents house, and that there’s a monster in the basement. We also learn that their baby brother Walter is on the third floor with his nanny, Marta. This seems like a problem, and we agree to help.
We also learn that the boy has a pet dog whose randomly-rolled name is – hilariously enough – Fred Durst. Frederick, technically, but same difference.
The group takes a short rest in one of the nearby structures. Landrovar feeds them some muffins (from an endless muffin tin given to him by Ploqwat) and Aial attempts to feed them birdseed from her endless birdseed sack (similarly acquired). Ahk-wa goes out and kills a rabbit in a nearby field to feed to baby Walter when they find him. There’s a lengthy discussion in which the siblings confusedly work through what the humans eat, why they’re 8-10 years old but so stupid and frail, and if human babies can fly.
Few concrete answers are reached. Ahk-wa throws a bloody rabbit leg to each of the children to sustain themselves while the group searches for Walter. They are grossed out.
Baby Walter’s Nursery
The house has three stories with an attic area. Foregoing the main entrance, Gwaihir flies up to a balcony on the third floor and finds its entrance open. All go up to the balcony and all but Ahk-wa enter. Inside, they find a dusty room and a seemingly magical mirror in which a woman mirrors the actions of whoever is in front of it. Landrovar is upset by the mirror not displaying his actual self. They inspect it and find a secret door behind the mirror leading to a staircase, but don’t enter. Inspecting the remainder of the floor, Gwaihir spots a nanny-like female – likely Marta – through a keyhole. Communicating through whispers, the group prepare to speak with her. Gwaihir gets her attention while the other two flank him in the room, and Ahk-wa stands ready just outside a window to Marta’s room, adjacent to the balcony outside the house.
As the door opens, “Marta” makes eye contact with Gwaihir and he watches as her skin melts off, revealing a demonic undead form that poises to strike…
Post-Session PC Notes
I’m trying to make these writeups PC-neutral – not as a personal journal of my character – though by necessity, some will be told from Ahk-wa’s perspective.
I love our backstory. We had a lot of fun figuring it out at the table. And hilarious fish-out-of-water moments like the “yes, and…” sequence where we were all ignorant of human customs drove home that we made the right decision.
I’m playing the straight man (er, woman) to my more outgoing and foolhardy younger siblings. Which is another change of pace, but one that I’m excited about. Allowing the group to partially dictate how I approach my character is something I was happy to let happen. I went in only knowing I was playing an aarakocra Ranger, but not if I was the oldest, youngest, most reckless, most protective, etc.
Flight changes nearly everything. Not too many level 1 fights involve half a dozen flight stands to manage the combat, but we’re already taking to the air whenever possible. And we likely skipped some content by flying right up to the 3rd story of the house, for good or ill. Indoor fights are likely going to be our downfall, though, especially lacking darkvision across the board.
So yeah, this was a disaster. I already have some ideas of how I can take better notes, but didn’t have anything in place for this session. I was literally just scribbling randomly onto my character sheet. So some of the details above are half-remembered or may change in future reports as I correct my errors. Suffice it to say, I’m more used to being the DM, where (imo) it’s a lot easier to remember details since you prepared them. I have no doubt future session notes will discuss my improvements in this area.