Barovia Goes to the Birds: Curse of Strahd Session #17
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
Session #17: “Wedding Plans”
PC Level: 7
Previously, the birds had agreed to bring a wedding dress to the Abbot of the Abbey in Krezk. Our new vampire-hunting companion Esmerelda is in tow, and wants us to help her find her mentor, Von Richten.
A Dress For Gwaihir
Our first stop is to the leaders of Krezk, to see if they can point us toward a dress. They ask who the wedding is for, and we end up in a weird, elaborate lie about Gwaihir and Esmerelda getting married, where Ahk-wa mistakenly thinks it’s the men who wear the dress (Lhandroval wears robes, after all) and Aial chimes in with specific requests for a magnificent dress for her brother. Lhando and Gwaihir try in vain to correct us while maintaining the lie for appearance’s sake. Awkwardness all around, and Gwaihir fumbles through the exchange wonderfully.
They point us toward Vallaki, where there’s a place that can make it for us.
Von Richten’s Tower
We stop at Von Richten’s tower abode on the way to help Esmerelda find him. The tower is locked, but is unlocked with a dance that Aial performs straightaway, opening the main chamber. Inside, we find a lot of rotted wood and dust, and a functioning elevator pulled by golem automatons. On the 4th floor, we find some items that are of note. Ahk-wa and Esmerelda head back down, acting as lookout. A horse approaches, and Esmerelda recognizes the rider as Von Richten. Ahk-wa likewise approaches.
Ahk-wa explains their presence and introduces herself. Von Richten drops his disguise, and Ahk-wa recognizes him as Rictavio. Along with this, a tiger (the one we released from his cart) walks up, with the monkey it took back. Ahk-wa does everything she can not to look really, really nervous at this, and what follows is a tense exchange where Ahk-wa basically gives everything away about their involvement in burning down Rictavio’s cart and stealing of his goods. However, she manages to justify it given their thoughts on the circus. Rictavio is clearly upset, but understands Ahk-wa’s position. He assures her that the circus master bit was just a cover disguise. But he demands his vampire-hunting gear back. Ahk-wa acquiesces, realizing that there’s been a misunderstanding.
Meanwhile, on the 4th floor, the other siblings come to much the same conclusion when they find Rictavio’s notes (after – it should be noted – a red herring journal that had more circus-related info). Eventually everyone meets up and Aial resumes the tense conversation with demands of Rictavio that he never do anything circus-related again. He confusedly agrees. There was also debate on the caged tiger, which he explains by saying that a tiger in a city is not a good idea. But the two are friends.
We return his stuff (some of which he lets us keep for being honest about its theft). And we fill him in on our mutual interest in killing Strahd. He’s interested in helping…to a point, since he normally works alone. He explains a curse that follows him, where anyone he befriends is doomed. We’re fine with not being friends; we just have mutual interests at the moment.
We talk him into joining us to see the Mad Mage, since we believe he can cure the mage’s madness.
Medicating Madness and Monkey Museums
We head to Mt. Baratok, and this time arm ourselves with summoned badgers in advance to placate the Mad Mage. This backfires, as he sees us and demands we unhand the badgers. Aial makes them do dances, but to no avail. The mage attacks, and Lhando takes yet another lightning bolt as he’s trying to offer the mage a muffin.
We realize he may have his Mind Blank spell up. With a bardic inspiration, Aial is able to (barely) dispel it, and he recognizes us and our badgers. He invites us into HIS (he emphasizes the word *coughforeshadowingcough*) mansion, and points us toward a rock. Gwaihir walks confidently toward it…straight into a rock. “Oh sorry, it’s this other rock,” says the mage. Good fun.
Inside, we talk him into allowing Von Richten’s Greater Restoration to be cast. And…it works, and the Mad Mage comes back to his senses. Lore spoiler incoming…
And it’s Mordenkainen!
We get an exposition dump of what he’s doing here (attempting to free the people of this land), his battle with Strahd, his fall at the Falls, how he lost his staff and spellbook (which he’ll need to recover to be of any assistance to us), and his descent into madness. He remembers us, but not all the details of his madness (he has no idea why he liked badgers, for instance). We discuss magic (briefly, until we realize he’s well beyond even our casters in knowledge), and his thoughts on our invitation to Strahd’s castle (not to engage him there, but that he’d likely honor his word and not attack us back).
He promises to message us once he’s found his staff and spellbook, telling us he’ll then have all of his spells, including some new ones that have never been cast before. We ask him for an example. “Mordenkainen’s Monkey Museum,” he offers, and our DM almost keeps a straight face as she tries to improv that one.
We head back toward Vallaki after a night’s rest. Von Richten informs us that we’re wanted there now, having been made into scapegoats by the Burgermeister for their recent troubles, and also for a couple things that we’re actually guilty of (breaking & entering his mansion, burning down a cart, etc.)
Rather than tempt fate, we send Esmerelda in to go dress shopping. She returns and says it will be two weeks to delivery. Too long. But she also learns that the Burgermeister’s wife (Burgermistress?) recently commissioned a wedding dress. So we have our target, and begin making plans to steal it under cover of night…
The comedy of misunderstandings and overlapping white lies in the dress conversation was probably the funniest scene we’ve had in this campaign. Impossible to recreate in a writeup, but we all love playing up the ignorance of society that the birds have (well, Aial and Ahk-wa at least).
Not sure what we would have done had Aial not rolled well on her Dispel Magic spell to remove Mind Blank. Lots of worse ways that could have played out. Still, we have a literal D&D legend on our side now. Things are good.
Dice Not Included
So, I didn’t roll a single die this session. Not one. It’s not a complaint, just an observation. I think relative to some guesstimated “average” of DMs I’ve seen online or have played with, our current DM calls for less checks than most. Which is again fine; it was a fun session, and there’s no one right way to play. But this was still a bit of an anomaly.
Mind you, I do less in social encounters than the others, and they also usually handle the investigating. And I wasn’t targeted with the lightning bolt. So I was the only one that made no rolls.
But I also had enough to do, so again, no complaints. I suppose there are groups that would bristle with (almost) no combat in two straight sessions. But our group isn’t one of them. It’s also probably inevitable that we’d have periods of less combat in a fairly true “sandbox” environment, since you can’t always space out combat encounters equally.
It was worth remarking on, though. I don’t know that I have a takeaway like I sometimes try for, but I thought it was interesting.
Stealing a dress, delivering it, and either visiting Strahd’s castle or laying plans to lure him out.