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I'm DMing a Curse of Strahd game for a party of 5 players, who are all currently level 5. The party consists of the following:

  • Wild Magic Sorcereress human
  • TWF Battlemaster human (has the only magic weapon, which is unfortunately a +1 greatsword)
  • Tanky eldritch knight dwarf with Shield Master
  • Moon druid tiefling
  • Runeseeker human (homebrew class, half-caster with utility/offense spells on short rest slots)

Spoilers ahead for Curse of Strahd:

The party also has Kasimir Velikov with them. They barely scraped through Tsolenka Pass against the two Vrocks. Three of the players were downed as well as Kasimir, and it could have easily ended in a TPK with some worse dice rolls.

I've added a few things to the campaign, the most pertinent being a pair of ancient Winter Wolves (chaotic good) in the Balinok mountains who represent the land before it was corrupted by Strahd - they are the only remaining "wolves" not under his control. They can speak common, and are there as a hook for the druid and runeseeker primarily, but I'm thinking that they may accompany the party to the Temple.

The party is pretty intent on reaching the temple and exploring it. However, things will be quite difficult:

The entry hall of the temple is guarded by a CR12 Arcanaloth named Neferon who starts out with total concealing darkness and 3/4 cover in the head of a statue, and in that same fight three CR4 Flameskulls assist him by casting magic missile and fireball through arrowslits from a hallway above that looks down on the main room.

CR Calculations:

I haven't done many CR calculations, but this online calculator indicates that this is a CR16 encounter, and roughly using the Wolves as two level 8 characters (given that they have 10d10 hit dice, but no multiattack) and treating Kasimir like a level 10 PC, the encounter is still Deadly - given the massive upperhand the cover gives them, I'd see even at level 10 the party would be better off finding a better place to fight the monsters.

Not to mention all of the other encounters in the temple. The party is pretty deadset on finding the temple and exploring, even though Kasimir is becoming hesitant after nearly dying in the last fight. My players are fairly headstrong - most players are (myself included), and generally it seems like the more you try to telegraph that they should run, the more they want to stand their ground. They have indicated that they want threats to be real, and that I shouldn't pull punches, but I'm not sure that's really been tested - nobody has died yet, despite close calls.

I'm planning how to recover from an inevitable TPK from the opening salvo, although I know that they might surprise me and do something clever and slip away.

If they manage to do that, will adding two helpers in the form of the Winter Wolves help even the playing field? Is there anything I can do to prevent this from turning into a bloodbath? If they are doomed no matter what, I need to consider pushing back (through Kasimir or the wolves) to prepare elsewhere, so if you come to that conclusion advice on how to avoid or handle a TPK in these circumstances becomes relevant.

Answers should, of course, follow Good Subjective, Bad Subjective - I'm mostly looking for answers and expert advice from people who have run the Amber Temple, especially with an underleveled party.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you pull out your specific question and highlight it? I'm afraid this question is being used as an invitation to discuss various related topics and isn't focused on a specific question. (The only question I see is actually the "will the winter wolves help" - is that the question you want answered?) \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Nov 29 '16 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk That is the question, although the other discussions do sort of get at the underlying problem (players are walking into a deathtrap, what now?). In the interest of selecting the best answer, the now-bolded part is the question i'm interested in. Let me know if this is still too broad. \$\endgroup\$ – Eidolon108 Nov 29 '16 at 5:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eidolon108 I updated my answer to address your question regarding the Winter Wolves, and provided a little more insight into just how deadly the Amber Temple could be to your party. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Nov 29 '16 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I will wait to accept an answer until I run the session - so i dont discourage others prematurely \$\endgroup\$ – Eidolon108 Nov 29 '16 at 23:12
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Your PCs will likely not survive the Amber Temple fully intact. Even adding the two Winter Wolves is not likely to help, as they are only CR 3 creatures. That is, one Winter Wolf is a medium challenge for a party of 4-5 level 3 characters.

Compare that to the CR 12 monster in the first encounter, which alone would be a challenge for 4 level 12 player characters! Not only that, but the Arcanaloth is a 16th-level spellcaster, with finger of death and chain lightning both in it's repertoire, in addition to no fewer than 3 castings of fireball available to it. In 5 optimal rounds in this one encounter, you're looking at a lot of damage, certainly enough to kill at least one of your PC's.

Without doing the calculations (don't have my DMG at work...), two Winter Wolves are still only a hard (or possibly deadly) challenge for APL 3. You can't treat them as level 8 characters based on the hit dice, because level 8 player characters have classes which grant abilities at level 1, level 3, level 5, level 6, and so on, with level 5 being the most important as it's where the power level ramps up (fireball and Extra Attack come "online" at level 5). Winter Wolves don't have any of these advantages, and even with Pack Tactics and Cold Breath, it's unlikely to make a difference as the party is shelled by the highly deadly encounters within the Amber Temple.

The Amber Temple is one of two areas in the adventure with a recommended party level of 10, the other being Castle Ravenloft itself. See the Areas by Level table early on in the book (I'll edit the pg num in when I get home this evening). You can have a raven try to warn them away, similar to the encounter at the entrance to the windmill, but ultimately your players are the ones who get to choose.

That being said, if they are intent on entering the temple, let them. If they survive, so be it. If they start getting wrecked early on, you can hint to them that it might be wise to regroup and come back later when they're stronger, i.e., when they're more appropriately leveled and well-equipped. If they don't take your advice and push forward anyway, let them TPK.

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I had a similar situation as well, however mine went a slightly different direction. They were determined to go up the mountain and find the temple until the Roc attacked them on the way up. This was enough to dissuade my party but it seems like yours still want to go forward.

The recommended level for Amber Temple is 10. Therefore I do not think its really feasible for a level 5 group to hope to clear it. I would give ample warning (there is lots of ways to do this, I will list a couple below based on other experiences). Assuming they do no take heed of the warnings - I would prepare for a TPK.

  1. This is used commonly in the theme, and is your best first measure.

    Use a raven to warn them. Similar warnings could have been used at some of the other encounters - including Old Bonegrinder.

  2. This may go against your setting, but worth a try.

    Typically Strahd likes to play with the adventurers. Perhaps an encounter just outside of the Amber Temple might be enough to scare them away. You could even use Strahd more brashly, simply using him to deliver a warning. Something like, "Fool-hearty adventurer, you think yourself strong enough to face the might of the Amber Temple?" - perhaps in a dream.

  3. This one is a little heavy handed, but can save your party from themselves.

    Simply lock the amber temple using something else in the game. For instance, being they they are level 5 they obviously have not completed everything else. Simply inform them when they arrive that they need to acquire one of the magical items listed in the campaign to gain access.

  4. This is a little vauge, but could also work.

    I seem to recall there is some random events that can happen while wandering the road (you would have to look them up). One of them is an encounter with a knight who is simply out killing Strahds minions. Perhaps use one of them to warn the party.

Hope this helps and gives you some good jumping points!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There's also the special event called Rahadin's Prayer, but that only prevents an attack while Rahadin remains in the temple. \$\endgroup\$ – Eidolon108 Nov 28 '16 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was not referring to special events in the temple. The special event I made mention to is based on random roadside encounters (in the early chapters of the book). The others would be non-book based encounters at the entrance. \$\endgroup\$ – Sh4d0wsPlyr Nov 29 '16 at 14:54
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You know your players, we don't. So long as they can take it and you have clearly telegraphed the risks, if they still have a death wish, oblige them. The 2nd TPK is always easier to take than the first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Nov 30 '16 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk it answers the part about "advice on how to avoid or handle a TPK in these circumstances becomes relevant" \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Dec 1 '16 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Also, the quetion as it stands is not the question as answered - the original penultimate paragraph was "I'm planning how to recover from an inevitable TPK from the opening salvo, although I know that they might surprise me and do something clever and slip away." \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Dec 1 '16 at 0:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I get that, and it's unfortunate that some answers come in before questions are clarified to be good and on point, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 1 '16 at 1:21
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So the Amber Temple is a giant death trap hiding some pretty sweet loot. @Sh4d0wsPlyr has several good ideas for dissuading them, but if they're going to enter the temple regardless, then I think the biggest dissuasion really happens when they walk in the door.

The main area (X5) is populated by a Yugoloth. The creature is 130 feet away from the bottom of the stairs and it has 120 feet of Truesight + a passive perception of 17. The highly intelligent Yugoloth is going to wait until the whole party (including wolves), gets to the mouth of the balcony and it's going to launch an 8th level fireball from its hiding place in the darkness. From a distance at which most PCs won't even be able to see it.

That's 13d6 (45.5) damage with a DC17 save. Your level 5 sorceress is going to have somewhere HP of 22 to 39, so she's probably going down on the spot. In fact, most of your party will fail their save and many will probably go down on the spot. They won't be able to see their attacker and the follow-up will be only slightly less dangerous.

So the temple is basically going to start with most of your party dead about 30 feet from the entryway. They will not have gotten to the first room, let alone really started the first fight. And that's going to be their decision point. Either the remaining party member(s) are going to pull their friends out the front door or they're all going to die the next round. And if you want to give them that opportunity to leave, then do so. Otherwise the next one is 6 seconds away and they're all gonna die.

That one round should really be dissuasion enough.

Something of note for the Arcanoloth, it's a 16th level caster with 8th level spells. It can cast an 8th level fireball followed by a 7th level one, then a 6th and so on... That's 13d6+12d6+11d6+11d6... and then when the players get into the main chamber, there are three Flameskulls that pop up and they each get an 8d6 fireball on their turn before then launching waves of Magic Missile. Also note that the Arcanoloth with not follow them outside of the temple. So if the PCs make it out of the temple, they will be safe until much later.

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