Monday, May 23, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Old Bone Grinder

Warning: Curse of Strahd Spoilers Ahead!

This past weekend the players in my Curse of Strahd campaign found their way to the Old Bone Grinder. Once a grain mill, it is now the abode of a coven of vicious hags. The hags are trapped in Barovia but are making the most of it with their baking hobby. The dream pastries they create allow Barovians to enter a near euphoric state of happiness when consumed. Practically addictive, when a family can no longer afford them the hags are willing to trade. The item used for these barter sessions are the Barovians’ children, which just happen to be the key ingredient in the dream pastries. The hags use the windmill's grindstone to pulverize their little bones into powder. For background people with souls are rare in Barovia. This causes the hags to prick children with a needle; if the child howls in pain, that’s a key indication that the child as a soul.

This terrible form of corruption is indeed horrid to contemplate. Adults are basically consuming their own children for a chance to escape the dread land for a short time. When the players piece all this information together they will likely be outraged and want to act. The problem with this approach is a coven of hags is not to be trifled with, especially for lower level characters. Our game session had one character death and nearly ended in a nasty TPK. Two of the hags are believed to be defeated and one is known to have escaped the area. Since my players will most likely be reading this post I will not definitively share what that outcome will be.

Hags and crones have been used for ages in stories to scare children, Hansel and Gretel being a tale most are familiar with. I love the inclusion of Morgantha and her wretched daughters, Bella Sunbane and Offalia Wormwiggle in the Curse of Strahd. In our session my friend Ike’s character had the windmill deed found in the Death House adventure. After ousting the hags from the windmill his arcane trickster attempted to use the deed to claim ownership of the Old Bone Grinder. A few arcana checks and makeshift ritual later, I decided it worked thus preventing the coven from entering the windmill for one year. I’m sure the hags will be perfectly fine with this change and won’t mind it at all!

This got me thinking more about the coven and their macabre baking sessions. Night hags enjoy tormenting dreams and sowing sorrow throughout the land. Surely the dream pastries cannot be the extent of their confectionery skills. Therefore please find below a few new delicacies to add to your own Curse of Strahd campaign.

Spiteful Strudels (1d6)

1. These pastries are filled with a rich sweet cheese which will satisfy the most demanding connoisseur. Unfortunately, the cheese is crafted using the powdered fingernails of a ghoul. A creature that eats one in its entirety must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or become paralyzed. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

2. This doughy pastry is filled with minced tree-ripened apples and has a tart flavor. Each apple was carefully chewed by a Night Hag and infected by their saliva. A creature that eats one in its entirety must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or fall unconscious. It wakes up if it takes any damage or if another creature uses its action to shake the sleeper awake.

3. These flaky and savory puffs are filled with spinach and broccoli. The vegetables are grown using compost created with the rotting flesh of zombies. A creature that eats one in its entirety must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or develop Flesh Taut disease. One day after infection, the creature’s flesh starts to become chilled and rigid. The creature takes a −1 penalty to checks that rely on dexterity. At the end of each long rest after the symptoms appear, the penalty worsens by 1. When it reaches −5, the victim has developed acute Rigor mortis and has their movement halved. This can only be cured with magic such as lesser restoration or heal.

4. These flavorful delights have a deep appetizing red color. Made with a blend of cherries, their tartness is carefully balanced with a sweet glaze. Unbeknownst to everyone the latter is created with the bones of hapless Vistani travelers. A creature that eats one in its entirety must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or believe they are Vistana. They will dress in bright clothes; laugh often, and drink heartily. This behavior will gain the attention of the true Vistani, and the pastry eater gains disadvantage against their Evil Eye for 1d4 months.

5. These pretzel twists are covered in cinnamon sugar and are a favorite of Barovian children. The hags also sprinkle something far more sinister on top. Small diseased rodents are captured, dried out, and powdered. A creature consuming a pretzel twist in its entirety must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or it can’t regain hit points except by magical means. Additionally their hit point maximum decreases by 3 (1d6) every 24 hours. If the hit point maximum drops to 0 as a result of this sickness, they die. This can only be cured with magic such as lesser restoration or heal.

6. These meat pies are lovingly cooked with delicious gravy and mouthwatering bits of venison. Semi-sweet sugar is sprinkled on top of the pies to balance the strong meat flavor. Unfortunately, the meat is not all venison, as the hags also include corpse flesh of those they murdered. A creature that eats one in its entirety must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for one minute. For the duration they can see the memories of the dead they have consumed. Every round, before the effect ends, the target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 4d10 psychic damage. On a successful save, this condition ends.

1 comment:

  1. The Undergrinder
    (after Shel Silverstein)
    by Luminator Thelms
    If, late at night, there's a strange grinding sound
    That seems to be coming from under the ground,
    You can be certain, someplace you can't find,
    The old Undergrinder is starting to grind!

    The old Undergrinder lives deep in the caves;
    He grinds into powder bones taken from graves,
    And stuff once alive but now thoroughly dead
    (Unlike those Things crawling from under your bed).

    He has gnarly teeth that project from his jaw,
    Eyes grey as flints and hair colored like straw
    That's laid in the sun and the rain for two years,
    Which sticks from his nostrils and eyebrows and ears.

    His hide is unpleasant because he adores
    To rub on sharp rocks 'til he's covered with sores.
    His breath has turned fetid from swallowing down
    The goo that he brews from the stuff he has found:

    Gunk that seeped down through the cracks in the floor
    Of an old settler's kitchen in Eighteen Oh Four,
    Old shells from clambakes lost in sand dunes' lees,
    And roots he pulls off of the trunks of dead trees.

    Acorn troves buried by long-ago squirrels,
    And especially, dried bones of dead boys and girls.
    I know what you're thinking, but please have no fears;
    These bones have to age for a good hundred years.

    Whatever he's grinding, he finds underground;
    When dead things aren't close by, he feels around.
    His fingers can tunnel for dozens of miles,
    And when they grab something to grind up, he *smiles.*

    He drags dead stuff to his cave under the hill,
    To fill his Grinder like an old coffee mill.
    But it's three times wider, and four times as tall
    As any mill found at Ye Olde Antique Mall.

    Then he holds still his Grinder between boney knees,
    His hands give its crank knob a powerful squeeze,
    His arms and his torso pull the crank around
    And the Grinder starts making its horrible sound.

    He grinds and he grinds 'til the Grinder is hot,
    To make very fine powder he cooks in his pot
    With water that drips from an old stalactite
    Adding minerals to make his goo taste *just right.*

    Then the old Undergrinder grabs his rusty spoon.
    He gulps hot goo down, and he begins to croon,
    And show his crooked teeth in a hideous smile
    As he thinks of the bones he has dragged to his pile.

    Though there are certain bones that he cannot abide:
    The ones that are tainted with formaldehyde.
    And since un-embalmed children are getting quite rare,
    Now he buries young bones for himself, here and there.

    So I hope you won't mind when he's pulling you down
    To tuck *your* bones away 'til they're fit to be ground . . .