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.
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.