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Modifying Old Bonegrinder to be more (and yet less) deadly.

Plutancatty

Explorer
Alright, I'm back posting! (Though you may not have noticed or rejoiced at the absence of my too long-winded questions).

Anyway, let's get to it: how do you tweak written adventures (right now I'm preparing Curse of Strahd, but you can share anything if you like -maybe not ToA, since I'm currently playing that, or share it with spoilers to hide that part or something).

So.

(Spoilers, I guess)

Old Bonegrinder really has me worried when I think about it: I've read about it, I've read it, and the more I read hag stats the more it looks a like a TPK no matter what. Then you start to read about hags themselves, and see that they probably aren't going to kill the party, because -1) they don't want to incur in Strahd's wrath by taking away his new toys and -2)They'd much rather corrupt the group and cause infighting so they can later gather their souls.

But, at the same time, the hags are three centuries-old creatures, and they've seen adventurers come and go: I think they're a lot more cunning that how they're depicted in the book.
VgtM describes Hags as always having plans for when their lair comes under attack, as well as regional effects surrounding their lair.
So here's how I try to avoid the TPK: The Vistani warn them not to go there, as it is home to great evil; Ismark warns them not to approach the windmill and refuses to follow them as long as Ireena is with the party; the raven will wait for them as soon as the road branches out towards OB, and it's warning will be desperate and clear; regional effects proper of a powerful Night Hag will surround the mill (Shadows seem abnormally gaunt and sometimes move as though alive; creatures are transported to a harmless but eerie demiplane filled with shadowy forms, waxy corpses and cackling. The creatures are trapped there for a minute or two and then returned to the place where they vanished from; Intelligent creatures see hallucinations of dead friends, family members, and even themselves littering the area).

Even so, PCs will be PCs and won't heed most warnings, so here's how the hags fight: first off, at the bottom of the hill waits their invisible Quasit familiar, who flies back to the mill at top speed as soon as he sees anyone who seems to pose a threat approach (I calculated if he flies in bat form and dashes all the way home, he takes 7 minutes, while PCs moving at a normal travel pace take 20) this gives the hags almost enough time to change their coven spell list, if all three are home. When ready for combat, they prepare

*+number indicates spells prepared for combat and the order they are prepared in


1st lvl (4 slots): Ice Knife*3, Command*4
2nd lvl (3 slots): #Hold Person#, Cloud of daggers*5
3rd lvl (3 slots): Bestow Curse, Counterspell, Lightning Bolt
4th lvl (3 slots): Watery Sphere*2, Polymorph
5th lvl (2 slots): Wall of Force*1, Cone of Cold*6 (#Hold Person# will be upcast here to start combat off)
6th lvl (1 slot): Eyebite

That's a total of 18 minutes to prepare their spells, out of the 13 they have available, so they can either -1) start combat without Cone of Cold or -2) Stall the PCs for five minutes while they finish preparing it.

In any case, they won't usually use their deadly spells on the party, for the reasons listed above; they will, however:
Open up with the big guns straight away- Eyebite into Polymorph on tank (if Fighter/Barbarian) or Rogue (they're hundreds of years old, they know them some adventuring classes), then Hold Person (lvl 5) on anyone still active, and they proceed to tie up everyone if the whole party fails. If not, Watery Sphere on the weak-looking ones (this also has the added bonus of being a fire-control ability, since they know adventurers have the unfortunate habit of setting buildings on fire -not to mention their own spells might *Lightning Bolt*), and if things look bad, just drop a Wall of Force around half the party or its more problematic member and deal with the rest, then gang up on them meanly once one part is dealt with. In all this, the Hags are*not* trying to kill the party: they want to use them to get something or other, or get them addicted to pastries, or turn against one another. They will torture and threaten PCs, and even kill hostages (they have two children upstairs, and may find out the Ismark and Ireena are nearby).

Examples of what the hags might want:
-The PCs have to bring some Dream Pastries to Vallaki and beyond and try to sell them (the hags use some magic powder or something to avoid them going stale). They impose that every day at a certain hour they must show them the bag the pastries are in, as well as saying the name and location of anyone that has eaten their last pastry. The hags scry on them and then check on the purchaser: if the PCs lie, somebody dies/gets mutilated/other bad things.

-One of the PCs must eat a Dream Pastry to save one of the others from a mutilation: chopping the rogue's fingertips off so he can't pick locks anymore, ripping the wizard's tongue out to prevent him casting verbal spells, marring the bard's face, etc.

-Using the magic mirror in Vallaki to evoke the assassin and kill somebody the Hags find uncomfortable (basically anyone that isn't the PC's ally from the card reading goes, good hard choices are Van Richten -the PCs may not know he's Rictavio, so may just think he's some dude-, the Inkeeper in Vallaki -the Wereraven dude, can't remember his name rn-, Ismark or one of the town priests) This has the added advantage that it has a chance of turning the PC evil, so the hags can then eat his soul.

Once the PCs lose this combat (which they most likely will), they go on their way, with whatever new scars/quests the hags left them with.

But the hags are not stupid (far from it, at Int 16) and know adventurers have a vengeful streak in them. After they're attacked in their home, they become paranoid, and will not exit the mill until they determine (through Scrying -and of course they picked up locks of hair while they had the party trapped) that the PCs are nowhere in the vicinity. They also make note of any plans hatched while they can listen (determine a time of day and stick to that).

The PCs can gather the following information if they share their experience with Van Richten or Ezmeralda:

-Night Hags can haunt your dreams from the Ethereal Plane, but not if you're sleeping on consecrated ground or out of their reach (they have to actually travel to where you are).
-Hags are crafty, vengeful, and wish to corrupt others. All deals with hags will have downsides, no matter how favorable they appear.
-Hags can form covens that greatly amplify their power. Taking out one member breaks the coven.
-To be able to kill a Night Hag you must ensure she is not able to escape to the Ethereal Plane. Magic Circle can help in this (I'm not sure if there are any other spells that can though,please tell me if so)

Awright, so that's my take on the Old Partygrinder, as it is wont to be. What do you guys think? Makes the Hags too prominent in the story? Going too easy on the party?
Please, do tell :)
 

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