Monday, July 17, 2017

The Amber Temple pt. 2: A Curse of Strahd Play Report (Spoilers!)

The Amber Temple

(**Curse of Strahd spoilers**) Hidden within the Balinok Mountains rests the Amber Temple, a vault designed to contain the evil remnants of long dead gods. It was here where Count Strahd first consulted with the Dark Powers of Barovia to negotiate a pact which led to his eventual transformation into a vampire. The party has received multiple warnings from Dr. Rudolph van Richten that this was a place to avoid, as it contains power too incredible for mortals to resist and does so at a cost to one's humanity.

Printed the entire Amber Temple to scale from http://mikeschley.com/

So naturally the group was going to go there, right?

The Party

  • Reinhardt Gregarious - Human paladin of Bahamut. Wields the broken hilt that once belonged to Strahd's brother, Sergei, which he has learned to use to produce a blade of radiant light. Was killed and made a deal with the dark powers and now emits the stench of decay. Strahd recently had Vistani leave Barovia to kidnap his best friend, Lucas. Strahd left a coffin on the road for Reinhardt to find, within which was Lucas' dead body.
  • Barzulan - Gnome warlock who is a bibliophile. Has a book he received from a mysterious stranger that depicts various eldritch runes. The book showed to him images of a temple, within which were many halls with amber doors. He has been seeking this since he arrived in Barovia. Also died and made a deal with the dark powers, leaving him with a feeling that insects are crawling underneath his skin.
  • Lirean - Half-elf druid who has recently met her father for the first time, a brute of a man with a demon arm named Izek. Also learned that she may not be a natural born individual but may somehow have her origins as an animated doll crafted by a toy maker in Vallaki named Blinsky.

Why we are here

Previously, the party met a dusk elf named Kasimir Velikov, who is believed to be the important ally foretold in the Tarokka card reading to assist in defeating Strahd. Kasimir agreed to lend his aid, but insisted they visit the Amber Temple. He claims that it is where the Dreadlord first gained his powers, and the secret to his demise rests there. Reinhardt and Lirean had reservations, but Barzulan has been the fervent voice advocating that they visit the temple.

Rahadin's Message

The party rested with a group of mountain folk who were taking refuge inside the temple. During the night, a thud had been heard against the door that they had barred to provide them a safe night's rest. On the other side was a letter that had been stabbed into the door with a dagger. It was from the chamberlain of Castle Ravenloft, a dusk elf named Rahadin. He warned the party against trusting Kasimir, who he suggested was a murderer and was misleading them. Rahadin invited the party to find him at Castle Ravenloft, where he promised to secure safe passage from the realm so that they wouldn't torment Strahd anymore. Not trusting Rahadin, the party reassured Kasimir that they were committed to working together to bring about an end to Strahd's reign.

Using the doors to a hallway where they knew several flameskulls were lurking, they headed north. They made quick work of them and found the body of a deceased wizard who did not fare so well against the animated skulls. He was clutching a staff, which Lirean picked up. It seemed to instantly change her. Prior to coming to the Temple, she was not eager to come to this place of evil. Upon clutching the staff, her mood seemed to change and she almost seemed impatient to find the power to defeat Strahd that they had come seeking.



They found a stairway that led down. Entering into an enormous length of hallway with marble floors and walls carved seemingly from a single piece of amber, the party discovered many doors which proved impossible to open. One set of doors, however, were shattered and lay in ruin upon the floor. The party went to investigate and found four crazed looking creatures shuffling around within. Each had smooth purplish skin and a singular eye that dominated their heads. Reinhardt saw within them a shred of humanity, as if something in this place warped and changed them into the creatures they now existed as. They communicated telepathically and seemed to be digging into Reinhardt's mind for secrets.

Reinhardt promptly cast zone of truth. He asked "If I share a secret with you, will you promise to share a promise with me?" Two of the nothics replied with an affirmative, and two replied with a negative. The group groaned as they realized they had a situation analogous to the Labyrinth doormen who presented Sarah with her death riddle (sorry, too much Labyrinth on the mind lately).


Barzulan wanted to know what they were doing here. They said they came seeking the "dark gifts." They pointed to two amber sarcophagi in the room, and the location where a third once stood but it was now just a pile of rubble. They said they had released the essence of the long dead god from within and were gifted with powers. Barzulan pressed on...how did they get in here? All the other doors in the hall were impassable. They told the party they learned the password by digging into the mind of a lich in the upper temple. Barzulan wondered what the password was; they responded that it was "COVFEFE."

The party decided to leave the four creatures alone and they left. They tried to enter the main nave of the temple where a huge 40 ft. cloaked statue stood prominently. As Reinhardt stepped forward, a beam of sickly green light originating from the statue struck him and he fell to the ground, dead. The group drug his body out of the room and carried him back to the room where they rested the previous night.

At this point, I was pretty happy we had the NPC Kasimir with the group. I gave the player who controlled the dead character the NPC for the session with some pointers (in secret) about the character's motives, trusting that he would know what to do when the time came.

The party went in search of the lich. After circumventing an illusory dinner party, an enthralling statue, and a closet full of skulls, the party eventually met the lich. He invited him into his quarters but seemed quite absent-minded. He couldn't remember his name, and didn't even seem to know exactly who 'Strahd von Zarovich' was, but he did know that he was meant to share the secrets of the temple with those who came seeking them. He invited the party to his library to see if they could find something to help restore his memory.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Lirean found a book which contained a greater restoration spell. Although this was a spell quite outside her current natural abilities, with Kasimir and Barzulan's assistance they managed to pull it off and restore the lich's mind. He informed them of his name, Exethanter, and he shared with them that the amber sarcophogi below indeed contained immeasurable power. Lirean asked if any of them would allow the power to raise the dead, thinking of the fallen Reinhardt. He said yes, and he offered to escort them through the temple.

They took a grand staircase from the library to the floor below, where they found three amber sarcophagi resting. Exethanter mentioned that he has reason to believe one of the sarcophagi to contain the ability to bring the dead back to life. At this point, Kasimir rushed ahead to release the spirit of this sarcophagi. Upon doing so, he emphatically replied that he would not be using this newfound power on the paladin. He came here to gain this power to bring back his sister, a victim of Strahd's.

This was kind of funny since the player running Kasimir was role-playing the NPC that was advocating against resurrecting his actual character. He did a great job!


Kasimir Velikov explains himself.

The party did not dwell on this long, for one of the sarcophagi was speaking directly to Barzulan. It stated that it was his patron, the entity who saw to it that the book he possessed found him so that it would lead him to this moment. Barzulan consented to release his patron, whom he soon learned to be that of Orcus, the Prince of Undeath. In return, his patron gave to him the knowledge of how to become a lich.

Lirean would normally have resisted the power of these sarcophagi, but the staff she picked up off the dead wizard had changed her. She seemed powerless to the allure of limitless power, so she went forward and released the third vestige. Darkness seemed to enshroud her and a wicked expression came over her face. She, too, had learned something that seemed to change her demeanor and warp her mind even further.

So, one of my players turned evil. The Curse of Strahd book suggests that when this happens, the DM should take control of the character and make them an NPC. But I think that is a little boring, and as long as the player is comfortable playing an evil character I think it could be a cool story. 


"Exethanter, are you a good lich or a bad lich?"

The pursuit for power did not stop there. They continued to enter various resting places that contained amber sarcophagi and released the spirits inside, gaining power and losing themselves. Lirean gained the power of flight but also grew large skeletal wings. She now has gained a taste for bones and grave dirt. She also uncovered the ability to control lightning, but soon the left side of her face began to sag and the muscles seized to work. Barzulan gained the ability to inflict disease upon his enemies, but he gained a nasty stench that seems to follow him everywhere. They found power that would allow them to resurrect Reinhardt.

When Reinhardt returned to life, he was horrified by what his friends had become. He also discovered that he no longer had the Sunsword, and noticed that it was in Lirean's hands who was clutching onto it with power lust in her eyes.

Conclusion

Wow! What a crazy session. With Barzulen and Lirean stacked with incredible power from the Amber Temple, is it still a horror story or has the tone shifted into more of a Suicide Squad situation? What did Lirean awake in her mind when she touched the first amber sarcophagi? Will Reinhardt be able to find a way to redeem his comrades?

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