Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Curse of Strahd: Amber Temple Addition

Greetings adventurers! I have finally awoken from my blogging slumber. The past few months I have been involved in a professional commitment which has gobbled up most of my waking hours. That said, I did etch out some time this past weekend to run our Curse of Strahd campaign. With minimal preparation on my side, I wanted to run a more traditional exploration adventure. If you do NOT want to be spoiled, then stop reading NOW!

The last time our group gathered they had explored most of the Amber Temple, high in the Balinok Mountains. This was a challenging session between the constant Flameskulls and evil vestiges (remnants of dead, malevolent entities) that kept calling to them. The latter were hidden away in the Amber Temple by a group of wizards, who would later turn against each other, driven mad by the evil vestiges. One however remained, who was now a forgetful lich named Exethanter.

The dark vestiges within the Amber Temple are said to have granted Strahd his immortality and powers. They managed to tempt the curiosity of the players in my campaign, and several of them accepted dark gifts. My wife’s character, a fey-pact warlock became chaotic evil after accepting a 22 charisma! Now an NPC, she willingly took a black carriage ride to castle Ravenloft at the beginning of last weekend’s session. Will she return to hamper the PCs...we shall see!

I really liked the idea of Exethanter and wanted to expand upon him. In the published adventure, it clearly states: The lich has no alliance with or animosity toward Strahd, and no interest in challenging Strahd for control of Barovia. So, what we are left with is forgetful lich that just wants to guard the Amber Temple. He will also talk about the powers which are hidden away there if prompted.

This made me think immediately of a favorite old adventure of mine from 1985: Into the Forgotten Realms, by Ed Greenwood. It was published in Dragon magazine #95 and detailed an old wizardry school with a crazy lich named Azimer. To quote part of the adventure text: Azimer will at first greet the characters in a brusque manner, demanding (in a ghastly whisper) to know where the characters have been, why they haven’t been studying their spell books, and scolding them for not seeming to care about how important their work at the school is. He will then get up and become more friendly and patronizing, continuing to treat the characters as favored pupils in his magic school. And calling them by the names of magic-users long dead who lived at the school.

This seemed like a perfect mash-up to use with Exethanter, who still could open a portal to his old magic school. When role-playing Exethanter I switched between a forgetful personality to suddenly back to the headmaster of a wizardry school. This made for some hilarious role-playing opportunities during our game session. In our campaign, the legendary Sunsword was inside Exethanter’s old school of magic. It was left there by another group of adventurers who were seeking other items to defeat Strahd with. Unfortunately for the PCs, one of Exethanter’s old faculty members Khazan was still there.

For background, The Sunsword is a unique blade once possessed by Strahd's brother, Sergei von Zarovich. Strahd employed a powerful wizard named Khazan to destroy the weapon after Sergei's death. Khazan appears in other parts of the Curse of Strahd, but I decided to use him inside the school of wizardry. Utilizing my freshly minted Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I decided he would be a Bodak with some spell casting ability.

Into the Forgotten Realms was perfect source material since the setting is an ancient school of magic. It was originally a tournament module for the AD&D game which was used at the GEN CON XVII Game Convention in August 1984. The players had a good time exploring the school and the few combats we had were memorable. I replaced the Grell in the adventure with a ghostly Beholder, and tossed in a few Flameskulls for good measure.

The original adventure, much like the Amber Temple is a trove of magic items. That said, any DMs considering its use may want to modify things a bit. During our session, the PCs recovered the Sunsword and a strange hand (cover of the adventure), which may be the earthly remnant of some deity. Or perhaps it was just the next afternoon snack for Khazan?

In closing remember that when you run any of the published campaign books don’t be afraid to change or add things. Ultimately the story belongs to your group, and whatever direction will lead to a fun time at the table is most important. As with all things the books are just guidelines, so expand and create as much as you wish!