Barovia Goes to the Birds: Curse of Strahd Session #3
“Weaseling Our Way Out”
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
PC Level: 2
Previously, the party of aarakocra siblings had descended into the basement of the apparently cursed house, in the hopes of finding a way to escape. They had just released the spirits of the two children whose ghosts they encountered, by burying their remains in their respective tombs.
ALL THE COMBAT
Deciding to tempt fate with more coffins and tombs, the party’s next stop is to the parents’ tombs, where, against Ahk-wa’s recommendation, Gwaihir opens a tomb and is greeted with a swarm of centipedes that the party must dispatch.
Meanwhile, Aial is barely able to fit in the hallways in her bear form, and this poses an occasional problem for the group as it makes it way single file through most of the passages.
Also, not possessing Darkvision, the party spend much of their time trying to work out a reasonable system of torch-bearing. Landroval, needing two hands less than the others, ends up with the torch most of the time.
Moving into a kitchen area, they’re next accosted by a Grick who attempts to surprise Ahk-wa.
Finally, finding a larger room with a statue of “The Dark Lord,” Gwaihir’s curious nature again gets the best of him as he pockets a crystal orb the statue is holding. This triggers a response from a series of spectral shades and ghosts, who swarm Gwaihir and knock him unconscious, and nearly take down the other members of the party, including Aial, whose sorely-needed bear form dissipates as she is beaten back into her bird form. We consider fleeing, but bring Gwaihir back with a healing potion and eventually the tide turns in our favor. Following the trying fight, we find a secret passage leading back into the main area of the house. We rest for a lengthy period, keeping watch, before returning to the basement.
During the rest, each has nightmares of various terrible fates. We also remember that Aial has a weasel familiar from her time in the circus, that we established in our backstory.
Continuing forward, we’re almost immediately attacked by a Mimic disguised as a door, who picks on poor Gwaihir again, nearly knocking him out (again) before we all sort of awkwardly swarm the door and put it down.
Civil Conversation (jk, More Combat)
The next room we find is a bedroom with portraits of the parents of the house, and our investigation leads to an ambush from two smelly corpses that were Gustav and Elizabeth Durst in life. Thanks to a handful of effective attacks, the fight doesn’t last long.
Following this, we thankfully find some interesting loot, and then stumble into the non-combat area of the basement, which contains more loot. Our haul includes a chain shirt, which Ahk-wa sacrifices her flight (nearly useless in this basement) to wear, some money, healing potions, an explosive concoction, and a magical cloak that Landroval – tempting fate – dons without knowing its nature (it is thankfully protective). And – perhaps most notably – a silver shortsword that Gwaihir takes.
Weaseling Our Way Out
Descending to the only remaining area, a lower level from which we can hear chanting, we find a room filled with creepy trinkets and a series of dungeon cells. With some expert sleuthing, Aial finds a secret passage that leads further down, to a watery room from which we can hear chanting. Upon investigating the central dais of the room, the chants grow louder and change to “One Must Die” over and over again. Numerous apparitions appear from the walls, and we are afraid for our lives. We come to understand that we must make a sacrifice.
Ahk-wa entertains the idea of having Aial turn into a beast form and “sacrificing” the beast. This is dismissed, but the brothers realize that Aial’s pet weasel could be the sacrifice. Aial protests initially, but realizes it’s the best way to appease the spirits. She willingly allows herself to be charmed by Gwaihir so as not to fight against the sacrifice, and in her charmed state tosses the weasel to Gwaihir. Together, he and Landroval take it to the central altar to do the deed. Ahk-wa takes Aial and has her look away, singing an aarakocra folk tune to try to distract her while the weasel is killed.
The sacrifice has the intended effect, the chanting stops and a voice says we are free to leave. Exiting quickly, the party find themselves back in the town they left. It no longer seems abandoned, and a sign in front warns of the house being cursed. Behind us, the house itself shrivels into a crushed mass and disappears. Several items from the house also disappear, including the deed to the house (but not the deed to the windmill).
We enter the town, hopeful that it’s the first stroke of luck we’ve had in days…
Combat-heavy session, which was fine. Session #2 was light on combat, and I’m guessing #4 will be heavier on RP as we enter Barovia proper. Apparently lots of groups sacrifice pets to get out of the Death House. Thought we were being more original. Ah well. I like the weasel pun, at least.
Somewhere in this session, the whole thing took on a Scooby-Doo vibe, and we ran with it. There’s an alternate version of this session somewhere in the multiverse where we get into a goofy montage running through dungeon doors away from ghosts, and at the end pull the mask off of Strahd, who would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling birds and their stupid bear.
Mechanic vs. Thematic
This isn’t a new topic, and every player likely has to make these decisions, but the war between thematic decisions and “optimal” ones is an ongoing struggle. I’m much more a thematic player these days – both in RP terms and with character ability choices – but it’s impossible not to angle for the loot upgrade or feel the satisfaction of a massive N20 attack.
The best are when they sort of become one, and I am always on the lookout for these opportunities. A great example is the Ranger spell “Zephyr Strike” (from Xanathar’s). Mechanically, it is guaranteed to do less damage than Hunter’s Mark, which has traditionally been “mandatory” for Rangers. But it replaces some of the damage, gives an at-advantage roll, provides some extra movement, and you don’t provoke opportunity attacks. Mechanically, there’s a lot to like, despite the sub-optimal damage. And thematically, Ahk-wa is an overprotective big sister who wants to attack from range but also act as a buffer between enemies and her squishier brothers. So jumping in and out of melee during fights makes sense. What’s more, as the winds encircle her, it matches with my choice of race AND class, with an aarakocra’s focus on the air and a ranger’s focus on natural elements. It’s a perfect match.
Not all are so neatly fitting, but it’s a cool example of how personality and backstory can meaningfully affect – and be enhanced by – ability choices. Everyone knows a pyro wizard who took all the fire spells (or something similar), but it can go deeper into the RP of a character at its best. Many other examples abound, and I look forward to finding more.
Normal people (I hope)!