Barovia Goes to the Birds: Curse of Strahd Session #10-11

“Spears and Bones and Lightning Stones”


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

Session #9 | Session #12

Session #10-11

PC Level: 5

We’re doing a 2-for-1 today, due to how I originally wrote and released these.

Previously, the bird siblings had returned to Vallaki and attended a festival (and burned down a cart). We have breakfast plans with Erwin the innkeeper and dinner plans with the Baron.

Keepers of the Feather
In one of the cooler coincidences of the campaign (the first being the circus master), our first meeting of the morning is with Erwin the innkeeper, he of the ties to the winery. He reveals himself as a raven hybrid, reveals a conspiracy against Strahd called the Keepers of the Feather (which we’re instantly made honorary members of) and appeals to our familial emotions to bridge the gap between him and his estranged family. Birds everywhere. Somewhere in Ahk-wa’s mind, she muses about taking over this entire land and establishing a new eerie.

If we can return one of the “wine seeds” to the winery, this might go a long way to helping this cause. Our only lead is toward Yester Hill, where we have other prophecy-related business. So we head out.

Erwin also provides us with some potions and a Bag of Tricks (grey) that Aial happily takes. We also stock up on common stuff at a local store, and stash the coffin maker’s body (we had been staying at his house after the vampires killed him) in the cart we have, to get rid of along the road. Ya know, just hiding dead bodies. Like heroes. He ends up being dumped into a river.

Ahk-wa spends the morning being harassed by her siblings for being hungover, and doesn’t speak much. Still, on balance, Erwin’s the first NPC she’s actually come to like (no joke). I do manage to divest a few items to my siblings that we pilfered the night before from Rictavio’s cart, before burning it down.

Wine Before Dying
He take the cart back to the winery, Aial uses some spell slots to purify their remaining vats of wine, we deliver a letter from Erwin trying to make amends with his father, and we tell them of our plans at Yester Hill, which include:

  • Retrieving their wine-seed.
  • Finding a sword that was foretold to be helpful.
  • Killing the tree at the hill, which we think will stop the twig and vine blights from spawning.

The Martokovs (also raven-people) send two of their own to help us. Awesome. We now have a whole phalanx of war birds.

Yester Hill Pt. 1
As we approach, a voice reaches out to Ahk-wa, and tells me it has sought a champion to wield its spear and dominate these lands. I feel drawn to a nearby cairn. We put that off, but Ahk-wa is super interested and not at all worried about it being an evil sentient weapon.

Approaching the hill, it’s massive, but we quickly see the tree, and nearby a stone ring with some stuff in it (more on that later). At the tree, a vast number of blights surround and protect it, but we remain relatively unscathed due to our flight advantage. Aial summons a pack of wolves to do the ground fighting, and we set the tree on fire.

Gwaihir flies down and inspects an axe in the tree and an old corpse. He retrieves the ornate axe and also finds a sword hilt that radiates…confusion to Gwaihir. Through some emotional communication, Gwaihir realizes the sword hates Strahd and keeps it.

We thin the herd of blights, but see movement toward the ring of stones. In it, we see several chanting druids and armed barbarians. Additionally, we see Strahd hurtling toward the hill on a flying, fiery horse. Well f***. We decide who will kamikaze him while the others escape if he decides to attack, and figure out that we can’t fly faster than him. Approaching the stone circle, we cross our fingers and try to interrupt whatever ritual is taking place….

{End Session #10}

Yester Hill Pt. II
Strahd mercifully ignores us and heads behind us to stare into the mists expectantly that surround one side of the hill (which is an edge of all Barovia).

Meanwhile, battle begins, now with enemies who have spells and spears. So we do start to take some damage, but notably, Ahk-wa flies to the center of the ring of enemies and dodges a flurry of spears, Matrix-style.

Oh, actually, no, FIRST we fly in over the ring of stones instead of through two stone-less paths. Turns out the stones are enchanted, and there’s a small chance that we’ll get blasted by lightning while flying over them. Aial and Lhandroval roll poorly, and the latter falls unconscious briefly.

Recovering from this, we manage to crash a wooden statue that they seem to be chanting around, primarily from Lhandroval’s lightning attack and other spells. Aial’s remaining wolves also continue to chip in. In the rubble of the statue, we find the seed. One of the druids grabs it, but we kill her and Ahk-wa swoops in and takes it. Realizing that we don’t have to stay, we circle back to the tree, which we decide to leave with Strahd so close, then circle down to the cairn, out of sight of those on top of the large hill.

My Delicious Spear
Ahk-wa immediately feels a presence and we uncover a skeleton and a spear. She takes it and receives visions of hunting and killing. Upon later attunement, she learns that it belonged to an ancient barbarian war chief who hunted at night and had some vampiric tendencies, but without being vampiric. The spear is similarly vampiric, and can transfer health to me. It wants to hunt and kill, and conquer the surrounding area. I accept it, and also respectfully take some finger bones of the warlord to attach to my necklace.

Other Things That Aren’t My Awesome Spear
We head back to the winery with the seed. One of the raven dudes almost died, but they’re grateful. The father also sends a letter with us for Erwin, seemingly forgiving Erwin and welcoming him back into their family of birds.

Gwaihir also attunes to the sword hilt, which instantly strikes up Star Wars music before igniting into a lightsaber. It should be an awesome anti-undead weapon.

Wolfsteaks With the Baron
Back in Vallaki, we return to Erwin briefly before our dinner with the Baron. Ahk-wa also heads to the general store since her bowstring broke during the fighting (we’re doing Crit Fails in this campaign), so my combat utility was mitigated somewhat, though I managed to contribute a surprising amount despite that fact.

At the Baron’s mansion, we’re greeted by the Baroness, who seems pleasant. And his aid, Izaak, who seems less so. We don’t learn a whole lot, but we do discern that the Baron isn’t in league with Strahd, just a bit off his rocker for arresting citizens for “not being happy.” There’s also something going on in the attic, so we make plans to break in soon after. The Baron promises his trust if we can help with the matter of his missing servants. We’re not super keen on this, but we agree for the sake of keeping on his good side.

Up Next:
We need to figure out who our best ally is here (besides Erwin, whom we now trust), so a meeting with Lady Watcher is in order. After breaking into the Baron’s attic, most likely. We’re also itching to explore beyond Vallaki, so our other quest hooks beckon, most likely Mount Baratok (to find a wizard?) and the windmill (to get slaughtered by some hags, most likely).

Player Notes

Building an Aesthetic
So Ahk-wa now has a wolf’s head cowl, a fur mantle that she crafted from pelts I’ve been skinning, a bone necklace with bones of a dead warlord as ornaments, and a vampiric blood spear. I get that Rangers suffer a bit in utility in 5e relative to caster classes and other swiss army knives like druids, but I am entirely winning the non-existent competition for coolest garb.

We Lost the Plot Hook
Our DM had a frank chat with us about having lost Ireena, and how that destroyed one of the plot’s big drivers, especially toward a location or two that we haven’t really even thought about. I don’t see it as a long-term problem (we are having fun and have plenty of hooks to occupy us). But it’s an interesting quirk of pre-gen adventures that some of the hooks, twists and A-to-B-to-C logic for the main plot can reside in elements that the players can entirely ignore or otherwise make inert, and with tighter restrictions on altering those paths. Strahd is one of the more well-regarded 5e adventures from WotC, but I also tangentially know that we’re not the only group to have lost Ireena at an early stage. So I wonder if this isn’t one instance where the book should provide multiple paths to the same end goals. DM’s who don’t want to go too off script may face some tough decisions in such instances.

I suspect this is more of an issue in linear adventures (Strahd is much more a sandbox) but I can’t really confirm since I’m mostly a homebrewer (or a “heavily altered pre-gen”) style of DM myself.

Crit Fails
So I was the recipient of one of the crueler Crit Fails so far when a Nat 1 caused my bowstring to snap. I don’t mind; I actually think it adds an element of scary realism and exciting randomness to use crit fail tables. But at the same time, I don’t feel compelled to use it in my own games as DM. I can’t quite explain why, but it’s something I may eventually experiment with. Regardless, I think it’s an interesting optional rule for games.

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