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Me and five friends wanted to try out DnD, none of us have played before but I know the most about DnD (read: I listened to The Adventure Zone and watched some videos on YouTube) so I volunteered as DM. I decided on running Death House because it sounded cool and then seeing how we'll progress from there. I realized it would be too hard so I decided to dial down the number of monsters and give them hints here and there.

But then, one of my players got sick and another one decided he didn't want to play just yet after all. The sick one was going to play as cleric and the three remaining ones don't want to play any class that can heal for some reason. So now I'm stuck trying to run Death House for three players with no healer and we play in three days so it's not like I'd have time to prepare anything else, even if I didn't have work. Any advice?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Might be interesting to read for you: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/93152/… \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Sep 11 '19 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Thank you! Most of these don't really apply but I'll definitely give them some extra healing potions. Is there anything else I should try or keep in mind? \$\endgroup\$ – pttg Sep 11 '19 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note you'll find that things that look "too hard" very often aren't. It's easy to underestimate how capable PCs are. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Sep 11 '19 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor The remaining three players are a fighter, a rogue and a monk. \$\endgroup\$ – pttg Sep 11 '19 at 10:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pttg You might be interested in one of my questions about playing Lost Mine of Phandelver with 3 players and no healers. While some answer addresses my specific party, there are a lot of useful tips for a no healer party. \$\endgroup\$ – Zoma Sep 11 '19 at 13:41
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This answer contains spoilers for the Death House, and is based on my personal experience playing it as well as the Curse of Strahd source itself.

First things first, a "dedicated healer" is something that is seldom actually seen or used in DnD 5e. The game lends poor support to characters intending to use most of their time healing other characters, and healing output from spells is generally paltry compared to the amount of damage per turn. The best way to keep your friends alive is, in most cases, to help defeat their enemies quickly instead of trying to repair the damage they do on the fly.

That said, healing magic or other powers like the Healer feat are very useful for rescuing characters from zero hit points --- even a single hit point is enough to give them full actions next turn and prevent them from having to make death saves.

But Death House is not quite your average adventure. Yet another reminder: spoilers ahoy.

The Death House is extremely deadly, assuming your players make the wrong --- yet completely sensible --- choices. Combat encounters, usually being the most dangerous part, are actually not the worst thing here: rooms filled with poisonous fog and doors turned into spinning scythe blades will very quickly wear a party to the end of their resources, unless they are exceedingly lucky with their rolls. Loss of health is not easily avoidable even with conservative gameplay, and rescuing unconscious characters quickly becomes a liability without fast healing in the conditions of the house.

To illustrate: our party went in with full resources. We had a Paladin for healing, and my Monk had the Healer feat and a Healer's kit with me. We emerged with all slots expended, the entire Healer's kit used up, with two characters at zero HP, the other two at a single HP, and this was with me and the Paladin squeezing everything we could out of our respective healing resources in a manner many would consider cheesing. Death House is that deadly.

Suggestions to alleviate the deadliness

The house is not at all that dangerous if your players pick the right choices. Since I've warned you already about spoilers, I'll state it up front: to avoid the house turning against the PCs, a creature has to die at the sanctum in the basement. Being open about the deadliness of the adventure can prime your players to make the right choice there and accept the consequence of losing one of their own. While not obvious, the sacrifice does not have to be humanoid in nature: any creature will do. If you're feeling particularly merciful, give them a henchman NPC to tag along to sacrifice, after which the party can leave the house unhindered, or some animal they can capture for that purpose.

For a less merciful alternative, you can fudge the rules of the house slightly. My Curse of Strahd GM suggested that the house should be appeased when a PC dies, even not in the sanctum. This will preserve the feeling of deadliness, but politely spares your players of the unsavory decision on who to sacrifice and gives them a shot at leaving everyone alive. You can of course also extend the players' capabilities to some extent by giving them health potions, but this is a bit fickle alternative: it might happen that the PC carrying the potions turns into a single-point-of-failure whose unconsciousness dooms the whole party.

Overall, whether or not this kind and extent of deadliness is desirable is up to you and your party. The best you can do is warn them in advance, really, that this is not going to be their average heroic romp but rather a nightmarish situation their characters will be lucky to survive and that some PC deaths are the expected outcome. If you or your players want that heroic romp instead, I suggest not playing Death House with them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking of giving each character an equal number of healing potions, maybe one or two since there's also ones in the house, so that even if one dies, they still have enough. You're probably right that the ending will be the toughest part. I'm definitely gonna point out that they won't survive if they try to fight Lorghoth. Following your answer, I also thought I might lower the door DC, make the blades do less damage (same for the smoke) and maybe make the rats weaker. Do you think that's a viable option? \$\endgroup\$ – pttg Sep 11 '19 at 10:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pttg Those sound like reasonable choices. I'd warn them against trying to fight, but honestly I feel the greatest dangers are indeed the scythe doors and the smoke. The rats are tricky too, since they are swarms and resist common damage types, possibly restricting the players' ability to deal with them. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Sep 11 '19 at 11:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had noted the extreme deadliness and my preferred strategy would be to take Create Bonfire cantrip and systematically destroy the place. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Sep 11 '19 at 21:29
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The key to surviving Death House with new players is being very explicit about what players need to know.

The key to surviving without a dedicated healer is realizing that there are few time constraints and plenty of opportunities to rest.

This answer assumes the reader is a game master with a problem similar to the of the OP. Many spoilers are ahead.

Death House is like an old school dungeon in that the monsters remain in their rooms until 'activated' by the characters - this makes a bit more sense then normal, as most of them are either dead and haunting the place of their death, or are constructs and were ordered to defend a specific spot. Many or most of them will pursue the PC's once 'activated', but none of them will go looking for the party until it makes first contact.

However, unlike an old school dungeon, Death House has no wandering monsters and at least two floors of the house are quite comfortable places to rest. There are oil lamps and fireplaces; there is even a well-stocked kitchen the party can draw on.

Thus, the key for a small party or a party with no healer is simply not biting off more than they can chew. Exploring slowly and carefully, and when they fight monsters, fighting them one encounter at a time. When the combat is over, taking short and long rests as needed to replenish hp and spell slots. There are even actual beds for them to sleep in, if they dare.

The opposite approach, pushing on when low on hp and spells, or fleeing from one encounter into a previously unknown part of the house and thus activating a second encounter before the first is resolved, are great ways to die quickly.

The first two floors of the house, while creepy, are completely benign. What's more, they contain everything the players need to rest indefinitely except water (and there is water in the basement that may be accessed without a single encounter). The third floor contains three combat encounters, but of single monsters. The attic contains one potential encounter of a single monster if it was not found on the third floor. There is also an encounter with a pair of monsters in the attic that may possess party members but which will not damage them. Even if all of these encounters are avoided, the party will level to second when they find the entrance to the basement.

The basement is where things get more difficult, but if inexperienced players have learned the lesson of "rest to restore hp" they should be alright. In the basement the monsters get tougher and three of the six encounters are of multiple monsters at a time. The monsters in each case of multiple foes are undead, so the ability to turn a few and concentrate on the others will be very helpful, but even if the party does not have someone who can turn, most of the monsters are not intelligent. The party should be able to use the furnishings and narrow passages to reduce the effects of the monster's numbers, and then should be able to retreat to the house above to rest after each encounter - there is even a shortcut to the house available.

The ghasts in the basement are a difficult encounter - fortunately the party may have access to a scroll of protection from poison from the house above. The treasure from the ghasts will go a long way to helping the party if they decide to fight the single monster in the sub-basement.

That 'boss' encounter, a CR5 shambling mound when the party is likely at second level, could easily be deadly if the party insists on melee. However, by this point they should have learned the lesson of using their environment against superior but unintelligent foes. The 'mound is blind beyond 60 feet, has a poor movement rate, no missile attack, and no resistance to most of the party's missile attacks. The encounter is begun in a room that is encircled by what is effectively an archery platform and which has both a closeable door and a portcullis through which the characters can unload missile fire without the 'mound being able to immediately follow. The shambling mound lacks only a 'Kite me' sign on its back.

All of the strategies described in the paragraphs above can and should be used by a party of clever, experienced players. But the OP posits the challenge of very inexperienced players. In this case it is up to the GM to encourage the players to learn, without spoon-feeding them. It is quite possible that their first combat in the house will be their literal first combat as players. When that combat begins, a DM for complete novices should absolutely say "This is your first combat - let's run through the rules for combat and see if you have any questions. What do you think will be the most effective way for you to deal with this monster?"

When the combat is over, if characters are wounded, the DM should say, "Some of you are wounded (or unconscious). What are some ways you can recover hit points?" If no one suggests resting, the DM should then explain the resting rules, as well as their advantages and disadvantages, without outright suggesting that the players rest.

It is quite possible that a new player's first combat with multiple opponents will be with four ghouls or five shadows. That is hard. At the outset of the combat, the DM should pause things and say, "This is the first time you have fought multiple opponents. How do you think that will make the fight more difficult? What can you do that might help you counter these advantages?"

After each use of a new feature or ability, the GM should say "what did you learn here that might help in the future?" After enough of these prep and debrief sessions, clever novice players without healers will be equipped to do quite well in the Death House.

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Here's an option: Run it honestly and let them face the consequences.

There's something drastically depressing about all the groups which waltzed through modules like Tomb of Annihilation because their respective dungeon masters were spineless. Part of the enjoyment of a horror movie is that people get knocked off. Part of the enjoyment of D&D is that it's a game of life and death. If you take away the deadly traps and deadly encounters what is it really? A game with no tension, no fear, and no feeling of accomplishment. A cake-walk isn't something to be proud of. Even the dumbest players inevitably realize that they aren't being challenged and it saps their enthusiasm.

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I appreciated the way my DM ran this module. A group of four, two new, two with around 30 sessions in a different campaign.

In our session 0 he let us know about the Death House and that there would be a mulligan, only for this part of the campaign. This removed the fear of losing PC's while the two newer players were learning mechanics. It also showed the more experienced players this setting is out to kill us and not to hesitate running away, which we never did in our last campaign.

We died. It was glorious. DM resolved it by having the next story hook character (Ismark) pulling us out of the burning house and the story continued.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like a good way to handle it! Thanks for sharing your experience here :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 13 '19 at 9:52
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Nerf the Specter.

the biggest wild card in the death house is the specter's life drain.

Life Drain. Melee Spell Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: (3d6) necrotic damage. The target must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken. This reduction lasts until the creature finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0

It is basically guaranteed to insta-kill party members that fail their saving throw and players cannot easily run from it thanks to incorporeal movement. I had 2 TPK with the specter just from bad rolls. It also tends to cripple players used to not being able to rest in a dangerous place.

3d6 averages 10-11 hp, few first level players have more than 10hp, so consider reducing it to 2d6. which will be deadly but not insta-kill on the first attack or TPK on three moderately bad rolls.

Another piece of advice is to work on a better conclusion, this is pure fluff but the ending feels abrupt. No matter what the players do, whether they placate the house, kill the shambling mound, or burn the house down the ending is the same, it just ends. Consider giving them a reward, even if it is just the ghosts thanking them. The ending is very abrupt for something that is supposed to lead into other adventures.

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