5E Looking for DM Idea related to Strahd & Amber Temple

TheSwartz

Visitor
I'm trying to develop something and hoping to get some ideas.

I am running Curse of Strahd and the party has played to level 8. I am starting to guide the group to an ending and I threw out a path the party could take that wasn't the predictable "get high enough level then just go to Castle Ravenloft and fight Strahd" sort of ending. Although, that's totally fine with me if they eventually do that.

I had the party "invited to dinner" at Castle Ravenloft. I made it obvious that fighting him at that time would NOT be a good idea. I then had Strahd explain to the party that they were starting to cause a lot of problems in his domain, they've been burning down everything they see, killing off his allies, etc. So, he wanted to make an offer to the party, and if they accepted to help him with something, then he'd see to it that the Vistani would just guide them out of Barovia back to their homeland (and get them out of his hair).

Option 1 was to give over Ireena - the party declined
Option 2 was to destroy some enemies of Strahd at Argynvostholdt (which I would have then tried to make that a morally challenging predicament when they got there) - the party declined
Option 3 was to go to the Amber Temple and "retrieve something I dearly want" - which the party accepted.

So, the party is off to the Amber Temple, and I only told them that what Strahd wants "is a key", "a powerful object" and that "you'll know it when you see it". The party didn't really ask why he wanted this, etc.

You see... I came up with these ideas on the fly and didn't think they'd go for option 3... so I'm now trying to flesh out details for them

The primary thing I want, is that whatever they find, it's NOT something that a good inclined party would want Strahd to have, if they fully understood the consequences of such.

Here is my general idea that I had at the time: Strahd is searching for some artifact that would break his curse from the Dark Powers that bind Strahd to the Demiplane of dread. And, I'd think it's highly unlikely that this group would know what that meant since they have chosen not to investigate his backstory much at all. So, if they found such a thing, and gave it to him, then the proverbial sh*t would hit the proverbial fan as Strahd is unleashed. Maybe have something where Barovia merges with whatever D&D setting I want to take the group to next, and they have to deal with the consequences of Strahd now ruling a domain with free access to all the blood he could ever want to drink!

Anyway; I'm having some difficulty putting those general ideas into some details. Or, coming up with any other ideas. Anyone want to offer anything?

Thanks!
 
I actually did something a bit similar in my campaign. We're just now ending Curse of Strahd....our next session should wrap things up.

I used the Tome of Strahd as a physical representation of the agreement between Strahd and the dark powers. So perhaps in your game you can have that be the item Strahd seeks. Perhaps if he gets his hands on it, he can be free of the curse and return to the world as you described.

Or...perhaps he can use the Tome to trick another into taking on the curse. Perhaps this will allow him to find the heir to his throne. Perhaps the PCs are endangering themselves simply by handling the Tome.

Hopefully your group hadn't already found the Tome. I think you could use that to go in a few different directions if you'd like.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I only have a "fragment" of an answer, but a perfect life-size statue of someone in amber would be creepy and alarming...
 

knasser

Visitor
In the uneven stone ground of this chamber is a perfect circle inlaid in gold. Censers that should have guttered and gone out years past still burn sending sweet perfumes drifting through the rough-hewn stone room and each is held by a gleaming figure encased from foot to visored head in polished silver armour. One stands at each of the four cardinal points around the circle and each holds upright in their right hand a longsword the glitters sharply in the soft firelight, undulled by the passing of time. On the breast plate of each is enamled the symbol of Pelor [or insert whatever deity or knightly order you choose]. Within the circle is a stone plinth draped with a purple cloth. On it rests a queer sight - an old-fashioned bullseye lantern ordinary in its aspect and lain flat beside it a candle of some golden, iridescent wax that seems to shift hues as the light flickers across it. There seems to be a slight haze about it and there's a strange arched symbol in raised wax on its side that could be a doorway to a church or a keep. The candle is about five inches in length and perhaps a finger-length in width. It's plainly meant to be placed in the lantern although that seems a cheap housing for such distinctive object. The subtle colours make you recall the bright sunlight and colours of your homelands that you had almost forgotten in this fell land. It seems to draw you forward with them before you're brought to your senses by the sound of steel as the four knights move their swords to en guarde position as one.

The candle is made of some strange wax and is of a powerful and ancient magic. It gives off a light that repels the mists of Ravenloft. It can be lit as is creating a sphere that the mists cannot penetrate, but it is intended to be placed in the bullseye lantern which will create a stream of light ahead and make a clear path through them. Down this strange tunnel the traveller may walk unimpeded whilst the mists coil and twist helplessly above and around them, unable to prevent the traveller penetrating them. The light works equally well on other forms of closed border that domains uses such as the massed rats of Richemulot who draw back hissing before it. In any case, not only can this strange and ancient light enable one to pass through the borders between domains, but with knowledge, one might walk out of Ravenloft all together. Even if one were a lord of a domain...

N.b. the knights are probably enchanted suits of holy armour (though they could have occupants inside if you wished, Last Crusade style - their eyes misted white and an expression of peace upon their unmoving faces). The weapons they wield do additional Radiant Damage (which would be very dangerous to undead and other creatures of evil). In any case, the knights should not be capable of communication - verbal or otherwise. The armour is there purely to protect the artifact from evil that would possess it. The gold circle may act as some sort of magical shield against teleportation, gate and evil. Should the candle be removed from the chamber, the knights will collapse into empty shells and their silver armour and blades immediately grow dull and mundane. It was the magic of the candle that kept them animate.

N.b. #2 . If the PCs light the candle then you may wish to rule that it doesn't burn down to avoid messing up the plotline. But otherwise it is probably a nice touch that it does run down so that in theory Strahd might leave with it but that it doesn't become this everlasting bypass of the mists if the PCs end up with it. You also don't necessarily need to let just anyone walk out of Ravenloft with it - it might require special knowledge to know how or where to go to do that. It depends where you want to go with your game.

N.b. #3 If Strahd does honour his promise to return the PCs home, maybe he does it with the candle. Maybe it's the only way he can return them and worse, the only way they can (or think so). So they have to accept this devil's bargain and either they witness his triumphant escape in person or else maybe they battle him right there on the threshold of freedom, trying to either destroy him or drive him back into the grasping mists when he is just feet away from freedom. A dramatic finale to be sure. Maybe he is leaving without them and they have to chase him close behind as he rides his black horse ahead, the mists closing hungrily and quickly behind them as they race to keep up. All are very enticing possibilities.
 
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I like the idea of the time being a linked object, and may pilfer it for my game. :)

In addition to that, I suggest that the pretty obvious choice is to go with them trying to recover the Lich's phylactory in the Amber Temple. He's the primary guardian, and is as powerful (when cured) as Strahd. Make it so that strahd basically wants to "shackle" his Curse to the Lich, and thus free himself to leave Ravenloft. Good players would not wish to willingly help him escape, especially when he has no reason to keep his word. He is lawful, but still a liar, often through omission. Perhaps a bit too late for you, but I would have had him use the specific wording of "I shall have the Vistani lead you to a portal" and have kept it vague about where it goes. Albeit it's perhaps too late for that. These events are actually exactly what happens in an old Ravenloft book about Lord Soth, called "Knight of the Black Rose", a great read. While some of it is from older editions, in it, it is implied that any sufficiently powerful evil (i.e. undead) creature could become a dread lord of the mists. Use the Lich and his phylactory as a item strahd wants to bind Ravenloft to it instead (possibly using the tome idea in a ritual involving both items). If the players end up helping him, you can decide if he will keep his word and help them leave, of if he will leave them stranded in Ravenloft with its new master.

Keep in mind, it's a horror tale, it doesn't have to have the "heroes kill bad guy" ending. It could end with them leaving the world, harrowed from their journey and knowing they unleashed a powerful evil on the multiverse.
 

TheSwartz

Visitor
Sorry I didn't respond right away. Got busy with the holidays, etc.

These are AWESOME Ideas! Thank you VERY VERY much!

In typical fashion, I had one idea from above and was going to go straight with that, but as the PCs started doing their thing, I had to modify it a little, and so having more fodder was great to give my brain a spark to roll with it.

The group finally got back together this weekend. I'm using a few things from each of the ideas presented above. I especially love the idea that Strahd is looking for his "contract" with the Dark Powers. I changed up the info from the book, only in that it says that Strahd has come back to the Amber Temple many times. I mentioned that he has been there in a very vague way. But in my version, he has only tried to enter the temple. What he found, is that of all his domain in Barovia, the Amber Temple is the only place that is off limits to him. Both from a physical sense, but also from a scrying or any other magical sense. In this way, I imagine that the Dark Powers have "sealed away" this contract, and by extension, it's guardians are protected from Strahd. Of which, Exethanter is the primary guardian set in place by the Dark Powers. [with explanations as to why this is, etc. to be determined still...]

I have alluded during the campaign that there are two histories of Strahd, and his domain. In the common history that is told to them by the Barovians, I give them the timelines in the lore sections of the book, i.e. that Barovia has been under a "curse" for a few hundred years. However, I have had a couple other NPCs offer an alternate reality. For example, from Van Richten, or the hags. In their telling, Strahd is absolutely ancient. His origin is likely only known to the most powerful of mages within the D&D multiverse (I mean, really, whey else is Mordenkainen in Barovia??), and he is truly the "First Vampire". They speculate that his history is cyclical, which helps to merge the two versions of his timeline. (which is also alluded to in the Epilogue). In all other respects, his definite beginning (killing his brother, driving his love to suicide, etc) is accurate. It is only a matter of "when" did this really happen. 300 hundred years ago? 3,000 years? 30,000 years?

So, back to Exethanter. He is just as old as Strahd; actually, he'd have to be older. Thus, more reason for the Lich to have lost his mind by now. And, this demented lich guards something very important. Something which is ordained by the Dark Powers themselves, no less. The very artifact which curses Strahd. Binds him to Barovia. Gives him his power. Of course Strahd only tells the PC's that he wants this "book", not telling them what it is. Exethanter will have forgotten what it is. He's not even going to know it exists. Or who Strahd is. The PC's haven't met Exethanter yet, so my ideas may change and I have yet to imagine how the encounter is going to go. I'm having some mind blank right now on what to do with this guy. It should be a very important and memorable encounter.

However, they ran into the Arcanolith, Neferon, which was going to TPK them, so I had an idea in the moment which turned things around (from my recollection of how they are described in the Monster Manual, and also, I was like "why is this guy here anyway?"). He used his telepathy to communicate with the PCs, asking them to stand down and allow him to offer them an alternative course before he annihilated them. The Arcanolith had been able to enter Barovia, in search of lost Dark knowledge, rumored to be held in the Amber Temple. Only to find that once he got in, he could not get out. Furthermore, he found Exethanter back when he was more alert and more powerful, so he lost a struggle to take over the Amber Temple for his own. That was a long time ago, and he is unaware that Exethanter has become senile since then. In the stalemate, Neferon inhabited a part of the Temple away of Exethanter, who was OK with just leaving him alone, so long as Neferon stayed out of his way. During his time in Barovia, Neferon has pieced together information from the hags, Madame Eva, and previously unsuccessful adventurers (and maybe even Strahd himself) regarding the legends and connections between Strahd and the Amber Temple. Neferon (accurately) assumes that Exethanter holds a key, which could let Strahd free. And, he sees the party as a way to possible obtain that key. In doing so, he is willing to help them on their mission, because he (again, accurately) sees where this may lead (but of course does not tell the party. He doesn't "lie" about anything, but rather fully omits key information).

Of course, I may not be able to predict all outcomes, but these are the ones that I have Neferon anticipating:
1. If the party obtains the contract, and gives it to Strahd, this allows Strahd to break his curse, which also frees all inhabitants from Barovia (which would allow Neferon to escape).
2. If the party suspects that destroying this item is a good idea, he would encourage this, because this causes the events from #1 (just saves Strahd the hassle of doing so himself). And if they want to destroy it, then I think some ideas from above might give some inspirations on how to destroy an artifact.
3. If the PCs think to tamper with the contract. (I thought to describe the book as having writing on a few pages, but the last few pages are 'blank', to leave open a creative "hey.. what could I do with this?" moment), then there would be opportunities to, again, allow the release of inhabitants of Barovia.
4. If a member of the party comes up with some crazy idea where I see an opening, then maybe the artifact allows transference of the curse from Strahd to the PC. Again, maybe in the chaos of this transference, there might be an opportunity for someone like Neferon to escape.
5. There is the possibility that Exethanter kills all the PCs, and then Neferon hasn't lost anything. Maybe the fight weakens Exenthanter, allowing Neferon an opening to complete the mission himself.
6. There is a possibility that one (or all) of the PCs become new guardians of the Amber Temple somehow. Again, in the chaos of this transference, maybe Neferon could hope to find some sort of advantage.
7. Is there any downside to trying to steer the PCs to Exenthanter from Neferons thinking? Most likely not...
8. What is it that Neferon was seeking in the first place? Not sure if it matters at this point. He mostly just wants to escape by now. But there may still be some ideas there. I only said that he, too, was looking for "a book" that is guarded by Exethanter.

Again, thanks, I read these forums and am always impressed by how creative you guys are. Really makes me want to keep practicing the DM arts ;) Maybe some ideas here inspire someone else too!
 

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