Barovia Goes to the Birds: Curse of Strahd Campaign Retrospective
“Wrap-Up Session & Thoughts”
By MARK WILSON
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
Wrap-Up Session & Thoughts
PC Level: 10
Previously, the official campaign ended.
So we met in a bar to discuss the aftermath, which turned out to be fairly detailed. Aial wanted to free the mutant lepers at the Abbey, but this turned out to be a bad idea, since their madness made incarceration a not ideal but not the worst idea. We probably ended up killing a handful, and set a number of others loose outside Barovia to “be free.”
Lhandroval also had plans on Barovia itself. Unfortunately – big spoilers here – Strahd comes back. He’s canonically somewhat unkillable, and can presumably outlive us. So we end up vacating EVERYONE from Barovia while killing Strahd over and over. Lhando gets sucked into the Amber Temple for more power and ends up with the knowledge of how to become a Lich. He also likely becomes evil.
We also handle a lot of individual questions about character epilogues. Aial has LOTS of babies, and ends up leaving Adrian Martokov to become a single mom. Ahk-wa does some reluctant babysitting of these kids. Ahk-wa returns with Aial and father (and, eventually Gwaihir) to the Eyrie, finds a suitable warrior to mate with, has a single clutch of eggs, and either becomes head of the eyrie or branches off to lead her own. Gwaihir tries to help in Barovia longer than the sisters but eventually aids in getting everyone out so that Strahd is ruler over a barren, lifeless land.
Also plenty of “was that really in the book?” questions, but I’ll spare you all the details of stuff we were curious about.
Onto the Next Campaign
We then transitioned into ridiculous character ideas for our next campaign (Waterdeep: Dragon Heist) which starts in a couple weeks. Lots of fun. And the DM from this campaign is (most likely) playing one of Aial’s children, who settled in Waterdeep. So that’s a cool development, bringing this full circle.
There’s also the expectation that I tie this into the other campaign I’ve run largely in Waterdeep, which you can read here: Sword Coast Adventures – D&D 5e Campaign. The DM of this campaign played Naivara in that campaign, and there will undoubtedly be some crossover stuff. So…I have more work than I might have expected, but it should be tons of fun.
Curse of Strahd Campaign Retrospective
I was told by our DM that we were spoiled in this campaign. The RP was intense and ridiculous, and everybody seemed to be on a similar wavelength. We would be tactically precise in combat, but made overarching decisions for narrative and character-based reasons, which always felt cool. I am excited to continue with this group for another campaign as DM next.
1. Session #0, Session Omega, and the group dynamic. So we technically didn’t have the best Session #0, because a lot of it happened over drinks the week prior, minus two of the players. But we all bought into the premise and worked to build a shared story. This is legitimately huge in D&D and RPGs. Having a strong “why are we together?” and “what are our shared motivations?” drives every aspect of the adventure. The Session Omega, as I’ve called it, was also cool, and it allowed us to unpack the adventure in a satisfying manner.
2. My goddamned Ranger. It’s all downhill from here. I told my group – truthfully – that this campaign got me brainstorming ideas for new characters for the first time ever. Previously, all of my noodling was for DMing ideas. Which is cool; it’s inspired me to play more. And I know there are other cool classes, and new adventures to be had. But since forever in RPGs, video games, novels, etc., my class has been the Hunter/Ranger/Archer, etc. Always. Without exception. It’s my first and last fantasy love. And I know that I should leave it to try new stuff. And I will. But it will be rough. But a stoic, protective Aarakocran badass was a great way to scratch that itch. Ahk-wa will be one of my favorites as long as I play.
3. The Sandbox. Imo, too much is sometimes made of the type of campaign an adventure is. Personally, I think every campaign will sometimes become linear, then open up into more “open world” or sandbox structure. This is normal. But we really did utilize the sandbox-yness of Strahd, visiting multiple locations multiple times, for multiple reasons and with new circumstances nearly every time. Usually when people invoke the term sandbox, it just means you can visit things in any order. But the interconnectedness of the locations – and reasons to revisit any of them – remains low. I think this separates Strahd from some others.
4. Stacking the Deck. Our DM confided in us that she cheated a little bit with our Tarroka (see: Tarot) reading near the beginning. And it was because what we actually drew for our prophesied ally was…lackluster. Mordenkainen is a legend, and the story arc surrounding him was much more interesting. So she made an executive decision. I like this. Look, DMs want to make sure their players have agency and freedom and that the dice tell the tale much of the time. But sometimes you read an adventure and one option is simply better than another, and will produce a more interesting time. I hope my DMs make those choices instead of always making it random, just as I make those calls as a DM occasionally as well. In practice, it feels organic either way, and it’s probably going to be more fun.
The I’m Not Sure – Amber Temple
Strahd’s a good campaign, and it was excellently run by our DM. But there’s one I want to discuss.
1. The Amber Temple. So ok, I don’t actually think this is bad. But it sort of split our group (irl) about whether or not it was a good thing. And narratively, it doesn’t serve much purpose.
Apparently, plenty of DMs remove it, with no ill effects. But – as another player in my group put it – it allowed us to make the decision Strahd couldn’t (or not, in Lhando’s case), and allowed us to see how Strahd’s corruption took place. And he won me over with that argument.
And yet…I think there are elements of the temple that dip into player corruption simply for corruption’s sake, without the proper narrative or mechanical weight behind it to justify the penalty. I like the Amber Temple as an allegorical red herring to show us more of why Strahd is Strahd. But there’s still a dissonance when I consider it.
Maybe that’s part of the point, and it’s doing its job by making me feel uncomfortable about its existence. Or maybe that’s reading into it too much, and it’s occasionally just arbitrarily mean. But our DM made the excellent point that she liked the idea that we could wreck our characters in ways other than just death. Which is valid. So I don’t really know. But I wouldn’t really disagree with ANY opinion of it at this point, since I can see both sides.
In the scheme of things, though, it’s a small thing regardless. Strahd deserves its praise. There’s no such thing as a perfect adventure, imo, but this one does a lot of things really well.
Up Next: That’s it. I hope you enjoyed these reports. Cheers, friends!