5E where you're going to die in CoS (spoilers)
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    where you're going to die in CoS (spoilers)

    Quote Originally Posted by evilbob View Post
    ...likely places for TPKs should the party attempt to fight in these locations. The odds are beyond overwhelming: it's nearly certain that unless the party runs - quickly - someone will die (likely all of them).
    There's "deadly" (as defined in the DMG for encounter guidelines) and then there's: one or all of your party will absolutely be killed here, baring some extreme circumstances.

    I started a list in this thread of likely places the party would encounter a TPK in CoS. But as I started to expand it, it got too big for one post. So, continuing my list... here are all the places you may want to watch out for when running the game. I've tried to take into account the rating of the challenge, the likely level the PCs would encounter the challenge, and the likelihood of the PCs engaging the challenge. (Obviously none of them HAVE to be a TPK. My point is: if you run them straight, here are places where you can easily kill the party, so be aware... if you don't want that sort of thing to happen.)


    100% TPK if the party doesn't run or have spectacular luck/tactics or the GM doesn't cheat in their favor somehow

    Bottom of Death House: party likely level - 2; monster CR - 5 (only so brutal because they're such a low level; it can easily be outrun though)

    Windmill: party likely level - 3; monster CR - 11+ (playing the hags intelligently should always TPK any low level party; also, the party is very highly incentivized to fight, making this even more dangerous; one of the most deadly encounters in the adventure given the party's likely level and willingness to engage)

    Vallaki coffin shop: party likely level - 4; monster CR - 13 (during the day it's slightly less dangerous since they can run, otherwise it's a CR 13 ambush and the monsters will force a fight; a cleric/paladin is required for any chance at killing them; one of the most deadly encounters in the adventure given the party's likely level and being forced to fight)

    Church in Vallaki (note: only happens if coffin shop encounter doesn't happen): party likely level - 4+; monster CR GREATER THAN 20 or "only" CR 15 if Strahd ignores them (the only upshot is that the monsters will likely waste many turns killing innocents, giving the PCs a slight opening to escape, and Strahd will likely ignore them - but forcing an engagement with either the spawn or Strahd is a TPK)

    The Abbot: party likely level - 5; monster CR - 11 (deva + flesh golem) (fortunately a fight can be avoided but good-leaning parties will likely force a fight eventually; at level 5 it's extremely deadly, especially if both golems and lots of mongrel folk join in)

    Yester Hill, Strahd shows up: party suggested level - 6; monster CR - 18 (18 is assuming the druids ignore the party and the berserkers attack; unlike the church, Strahd will specifically defend the druids here along with his horse; the good thing is that they can run away and will fight a much weaker foe - CR 7 - instead of Strahd)

    Amber Temple, entrance: party suggested level - 9; monster CR 14+ (powerful enemies fighting from an extremely tactically advantageous position who initiate combat on sight and escape to fight again when hurt; the only upshot is the PCs can run, and +5 CR at higher levels is less of a big deal thanks to some powerful spells, but lower than level 9 parties will likely get TPK'd in a straight fight)

    Castle, Brazier Room: party suggested level - 9; monster CR 19 (it's a trap which can be avoided, but if they pull the 2 iron golems - which locks the doors to the room - pretty much any party is toast; their only chance is to open those doors before they're all dead)


    Not near-certain TPKs but so deadly at least one PC will likely die

    Death House, specter: party likely level - 1; monster CR - 1 ("appropriate" CR but listed because the specter insta-kills the majority of level 1 PCs in one hit + one failed save - and potentially anyone else soon after since the failed save damage can't be healed; also it has double HP thanks to DR and clerics can't turn at level 1; finally if played intelligently it would hit-and-run until at least one death)

    Arrigal from the Vistani camp: party likely level - 4; monster CR - 8 (can do well over 50 points of damage to a single target in one round - or much worse if they are surprised, which they probably will be)

    Mad Mage: party likely level - 5+; monster CR - 11ish (12 but missing some spells) (extremely high chance for a fight but fortunately the fight will likely be stopped early, although it's still highly possible he will kill someone first)

    Van Richten's Tower: party suggested level - 6 (the tower itself can kill characters easily if they aren't careful; also the wagon outside can down squishies easily if they aren't careful; fortunately both can be avoided)

    Van Richten's Tower, werewolf pack: party suggested level - 6; monster CR - 13ish (7 werewolves + 9 wolves) (if the pack attacks it will be extremely deadly, but fortunately the party may have the tower to use defensively and there's a reasonable explanation for them capturing some PCs instead of TPKing the group)

    Yester Hill, just the druids and berserkers: party suggested level - 6; monster CR - 11 (best case scenario is that the party fights this battle, and it's still 3x "deadly" - but at least they can run and return)

    Werewolf den, Kiril returns: party suggested level - 7; monster CR - 13 to 17 (unlike the tower, the PCs don't have tactically advantageous positions and will likely be pincered; the CR depends on how many remaining werewolves are in the den when Kiril shows up; again, their only hope may be capture)

    Castle, elevator trap (this trap is designed to make sure at least one character is taken by Strahd as its primary purpose is to split the party; if you don't want to use it this way, just be aware)

    Castle, Strahd final battle: party suggested level - 9; monster CR 15 - 17 depending on location (obviously Strahd's final battle is intense, but hopefully the PCs will be well-prepared; the worst location for fighting him is in his tomb, since 3 vampire spawn can join him)


    Other CR spikes to keep in mind

    Winery: party likely level - 5; CR 6 -> 11 (this starts as a CR 6ish but after 5 rounds it's ballooned to a CR ~11; fortunately running is easy)

    Silver Dragon lair (seriously, who can spell that?), Chapel: party suggested level - 7; monster CR - 9-10 (this isn't quite as deadly to a level 7+ party but three boosted CR 5 monsters would be a serious threat to a low level party; fighting is guaranteed but fortunately they can run)

    Silver Dragon lair, Vladimir: party suggested level - 7; monster CR 11ish (fortunately they can very much avoid fighting but if it comes to that it will go badly for a low level group)

    Tsolenka Pass: party suggested level - 8; monster CR 11+ (roc attacking while they're on a bridge)

    Berez: party suggested level - 8; monster CR 11 or 13ish (Baba Lysaga OR her hut; both is worse; fortunately there's a secret way to stop both of them)

    Amber Temple lich: party suggested level - 9; monster CR 10 but could go to 21 (without spells a lich shouldn't be a problem for a level 9 group even with its legendary actions - although if you added lair actions [a fair choice] it would probably bump this to CR 11+; restoring his mind would drastically raise the CR but also make it less likely they're going to fight it, but if they did ...it would be suicidal)

    Amber Temple, Amber Vault: party suggested level - 9; monster CR 13 (just wanted to note that 6 vampire spawn here is actually STILL a 2x "deadly" encounter)


    A note about the Castle: Ironically, there aren't many difficult combat encounters in the castle, especially if they wait until level 9 or 10 to show up. (Perhaps they expected some parties to head here straight away?) However, there are a LOT of combat encounters (and other places that will hurt you), and very few places you would want to rest - and some combat encounters that only happen if you try to leave (presumably at your worst). Also, there are a few traps that are tricky, and some that might kill PCs, but the ones listed above are really the worst.

    Also keep in mind this isn't an exhaustive list: nearly any combat can be a TPK under the right circumstances. Generally, any time you see gobs and gobs of monsters, or several decently challenging monsters (like 4+ vampire spawn), it's seriously dangerous. Presumably one of the reasons the undead encounters tend to run a little high is because you will have specific undead-fighting capabilities which then trivialize the encounter (like the sunsword, for example).
    Last edited by evilbob; Friday, 8th April, 2016 at 07:07 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by evilbob View Post
    (Obviously none of them HAVE to be a TPK. My point is: if you run them straight, here are places where you can easily kill the party, so be aware... if you don't want that sort of thing to happen.)
    This is key. I start the game by telling the players that this isn't a paint-by-numbers adventure path, it's a sandbox where you can easily get in over your head, so be careful.

    After that, I'm not killing anyone, they're the ones taking the risk, it's all on them.
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    Heh. I got a TPK in the bottom of Death House!
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Agamon View Post
    This is key. I start the game by telling the players that this isn't a paint-by-numbers adventure path, it's a sandbox where you can easily get in over your head, so be careful.
    I told my players that once. They elected to go do something else until they were about Level 6. That wasn't Ravenloft though, so considerably less escape potential.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Agamon View Post
    After that, I'm not killing anyone, they're the ones taking the risk, it's all on them.
    That's one perspective, sure. But many of these encounters aren't like that, which is the entire point of that opening quote and two paragraphs. It's not "taking a risk" to walk into a room and suddenly be attacked by 6 vampire spawn when you're level 4. It's simply the writer killing you. There could potentially be no judgement error for some of these encounters - just poor luck, or a non-intuitive path to approaching things.

    The whole point of this post is to warn DMs that if you haven't taken some time and really thought about how these particular encounters could play out, they might be far stronger than you might have otherwise trusted, based on the other encounters you've seen in WotC Adventure material (or other material). It's not just that "Ravenloft is deadly," it's that "unless you don't script certain things to happen in a certain way or give your group 'outs,' this encounter will lead to death, period." Maybe that's your thing; maybe your party is lucky or experienced enough, etc. Adjust as necessary, obviously.

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    Quote Originally Posted by evilbob View Post
    That's one perspective, sure. But many of these encounters aren't like that, which is the entire point of that opening quote and two paragraphs. It's not "taking a risk" to walk into a room and suddenly be attacked by 6 vampire spawn when you're level 4. It's simply the writer killing you. There could potentially be no judgement error for some of these encounters - just poor luck, or a non-intuitive path to approaching things.
    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that your post is without merit. Knowing is half the battle, as they say. I just took umbrage with some of the language, is all. But knowing where the hot spots are so the DM can give fair warning with clues in game is cool.

    I'm up front with my players about what they should expect, and both sides know who's at fault if PCs die. If they act brazenly or unprepared, they know they should have done things differently. I know it's my fault if I screw up some mechanic, fail in my description of a scene, or drop them into an death trap with no escape, and I own it (and will retcon, if possible).

    So dropping some hints via easily notable clues or NPC warnings (my players are trained to take these lightly at their own risk) is a good idea. But the designers knew what they were doing when they wrote this. Nothing is scarier for a player than the prospect of his PC being overwhelmed. That's the fundamental theme of the adventure. Strahd "is the land". There's no escaping him if they cross him.

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    One other thing about this list which I think is helpful to me as a DM is that regardless of the disproportionate mechanical "power" of these areas... they illustrate the need to me to focus on story, first, especially in the areas mentioned.

    Running this campaign is and will be different than running most other campaigns for me... because so much of it needs to be purely story-based. Wherein I get in the mindset to continually ignore the combat stats of all these monsters and instead treat them almost all as roleplaying NPCs. This is a setting that almost begs the response of being completely about negotiation and interaction between the PCs and the denizens of the valley. Combat should almost always be a last resort, because too many things will kill you too easily and too quickly.

    Running the game with this mindset... that combat more often than not will not and should not occur, because invariably some other tactic will be be safer for the PCs and inevitably more successful to get them what they want... will force me to be ever cognizant of the land and how some of these areas perhaps should be run.

    Just as an example: Old Bonegrinder and the three hags. Yes, as-is the encounter will f- the party up. Which behooves me to NOT run that location as-is. Instead, if I treat the area as a location with some NPCs to interact with... then it comes down to thinking "Hey, would the PCs be able to draw one of the daughters out of the windmill? If so, why? Where could they get her to go? Would she be arrogant enough to follow a few PCs somewhere outside the windmill because she doesn't fear them? If that happens, does that make it easier for the party to jump her? If the other hags hear or sense the attack, do they care enough for the other one to bother coming to her aid? If she escapes does she return to the windmill for help? Or does she despise her mother and sister enough to go off on her own to lick her wounds? And if so, does she now have a new focus on chasing/killing the PCs? Can the PCs use that to their advantage by pitting one hag now against the other two? What kind of deals can the party make if any?"

    All kinds of ideas and statements like this I'm constantly going to be thinking about. All to justify why the denizens of Barovia are individuals with their own wants and needs and desires not to be killed... and not just a pile of monster hit points in separate locations for the party to wade through. Which I suspect will be a very different mindset for me to get into and run the game. I'm looking forward to it.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by DEFCON 1 View Post
    Just as an example: Old Bonegrinder and the three hags.
    Great points; well said. And the windmill is the perfect example, I agree. I suppose the authors fully expected the party to go about stopping the hags in a way that didn't involve direct conflict; they go out of their way to warn the characters (DC 11 to interpret a warning = you will get it) and talk about the hags being open to bargaining and assuming the characters are there to trade. In fact, "stopping the hags" might not even be something they thought the characters would do. Although, this does conflict strongly with the presumed party reaction to seeing children being prepped for murder, along with the hags' mindset of wishing to continue without issue. But it's absolutely a litmus test.

    And it's set apart from some of the other over-the-top encounters because there's no stated or implied backdoor. With the Baba Lysaga, for example, they can defeat her without battle if they can simply disrupt her ritual (which leads to all sorts of creative solutions). Strahd is specifically set up to be beaten with the magical items you are directed to find. Even the vampire spawn coven is something that can be more reasonably tackled once you get appropriate information (like "create water" a few times and then rip the roof off and see where that gets you as the water runs over them - or simply "find the sunsword first"), although it may also work against them as this might be the first time the party discovers that sunlight in Barovia isn't sunlight. (Or you can rule that the spawn simply are inert during the day - the rules are not specific - making the whole thing trivial.) Most of the others can be run from and tried from different angles. But the hags are a bit different. You could still easily justify that defeated PCs are captured instead of killed, but there's no secret weapon to stopping them. (Even burning down the windmill jeopardizes the ones you're trying to save.) It's a very difficult problem and the direct method is intentionally the wrong one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by evilbob View Post
    Great points; well said. And the windmill is the perfect example, I agree. I suppose the authors fully expected the party to go about stopping the hags in a way that didn't involve direct conflict; they go out of their way to warn the characters (DC 11 to interpret a warning = you will get it) and talk about the hags being open to bargaining and assuming the characters are there to trade. In fact, "stopping the hags" might not even be something they thought the characters would do. Although, this does conflict strongly with the presumed party reaction to seeing children being prepped for murder, along with the hags' mindset of wishing to continue without issue. But it's absolutely a litmus test.

    And it's set apart from some of the other over-the-top encounters because there's no stated or implied backdoor. With the Baba Lysaga, for example, they can defeat her without battle if they can simply disrupt her ritual (which leads to all sorts of creative solutions). Strahd is specifically set up to be beaten with the magical items you are directed to find. Even the vampire spawn coven is something that can be more reasonably tackled once you get appropriate information (like "create water" a few times and then rip the roof off and see where that gets you as the water runs over them - or simply "find the sunsword first"), although it may also work against them as this might be the first time the party discovers that sunlight in Barovia isn't sunlight. (Or you can rule that the spawn simply are inert during the day - the rules are not specific - making the whole thing trivial.) Most of the others can be run from and tried from different angles. But the hags are a bit different. You could still easily justify that defeated PCs are captured instead of killed, but there's no secret weapon to stopping them. (Even burning down the windmill jeopardizes the ones you're trying to save.) It's a very difficult problem and the direct method is intentionally the wrong one.
    Yep, exactly. And what's more... in many cases the adventure doesn't actually give concrete reasons for the denizens to do what they do. It's left open for the individual DMs to decide.

    As the book says... Morgantha and her daughters capture children with souls to grind their bones into dust to make their dream pastries. They sell those pastries to the adults of Barovia to put them into trances. They do this to sow corruption in Barovia.

    That's it. That's the full explanation given as to why the hags do what they do. But that's... the barest minimum of a reason. "To sow corruption." For what purpose? What does it gain them? Why do they care? How does this "corruption" manifest? Do they even see this "corruption"? Is grinding the children's bones the only way they can sow corruption? Are there other things they can do? Do they care enough about sowing corruption that they'll continue to make dream pastries even when warned/threatened not to? Can they be convinced NOT to take children and kill them to make dream pastries? If the denizens of Barovia can be convinced to give up their addictions and NOT buy dream pastries, do the hags go out of business? Do they start selling them in Vallaki instead? Can they make pastries with some other type of bone? If people stop buying pastries and thus stop owing the hags money, do the hags steal children anyway? Are they compelled to take and kill children? If so, why? If not, would they let already-taken children go? Can they be convinced that steal children is unnecessary? Can they get denizens who have stopped eating pastries to start eating them again? Do they even bother trying to do that?

    These are just a handful of questions that each individual DM is going to be asking as they prep to run this encounter location with their players-- any number of them having absolutely nothing to do with the PCs just going in to attack and kill. There's umpteen reasons out there for the PCs to not even bother thinking about trying to kill the hags, and instead be focused on some other plan from the Interaction pillar. And us as DMs need to be constantly aware of this, and be prepared to run the hags such that any of these questions are legitimate ideas that could change the dynamic.

    What is unfortunate though... is that the adventure does (like almost all adventures do) have certain places where a room has a monster listed in it, and it's narrative is "When the PCs enter the room, the creature attacks." Which I think in this adventure in particular... is a poor cycle to get DMs thinking about. So for example, Argynvostholt has quite a number of revenants and phantom warriors that just show up and attack the party for no reason... mainly because "Hey, it's D&D, we need fights!" But for a location such as this where one of the main story thrusts is to retrieve the dragon's skull from the castle and return it and set alight the beacon in order to release them from their service... setting up situations where the party is expected to KILL many of the locations members on sight is extremely counter-intuitive. It's like... these revenants who we've given names to in the book are worth trying to save... these other ones who go unnamed, you'll need to kill them because they're going to arbitrarily attack you just for showing up. Doesn't really make much sense, and why it's imperative to change our mindset as DM going in. We need to determine whether half of these undead really should be attacking entrants into the castle for no reason... or whether the PCs really should need to DO something first to warrant being attacked. And if the undead occasionally DO attack the party... making sure the reason why some do and some don't are clear (or able to be deduced) because otherwise the party is just going to think "Well, this building is full of undead, I guess we need to make a clean sweep of it!", and thereby skipping an entire story-plot (if not THE entire story-plot). All because the book has unmotivated attacks against the party just so the party has "fights" to do.
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    Forget the bottom of Death House, I've already killed one player on the 3rd floor of DH, have two in the process of making Death Saves, and hit the Druid and Barbarian down to 2 HP. The spectre Life Drained one of the Rogues to death in one hit and left the Paladin making Death Saves. The armor is the one who spanked the Druid and Barbarian. The Fighter was taken to 0 HP by the broom...

    I wasn't even using Multiattack on the broom or armor...

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