Curse of Strahd - Session 9, 10, and 11
Over the last months we continued our Curse of Strahd campaign in several shorter sessions. Since the last session reported, the group crossed Tsolenka Pass and reached Amber Temple. They cleared Amber Temple, which is the second-biggest dungeon in the module, and just started with the biggest and final one: Castle Ravenloft. In the process the group leveled up to level 9. Apart from a fun encounter with a forgetful Lich, Tsolenka Pass and the Amber Temple feel a bit like filler material to get the group to the level required for Castle Ravenloft, and get them some magic items. Most of the sessions were filled with combat. Which brings me to the discussion of a spell I am growing to hate as a DM: Polymorph.
On paper, Polymorph looks like a fun spell. You can either polymorph a willing ally into whatever beast is useful for the situation, or you can polymorph an enemy into a harmless animal, reminiscent of the World of Warcraft spell turning enemies into sheep. However, the latter version is far inferior to the former, because of the saving throw involved. And because Polymorph is a 4th level spell, which you don't get before level 7, the spell ends up being nearly exclusive used to turn allies into a Giant Ape at level 7, and into a Tyrannosaurus Rex at level 8. With two characters in the group having access to the spell, we ended up with several combat sessions with two players polymorphed into Tyrannosaurus Rexes.
A Tyrannosaurus Rex with challenge rating 8 has a lot more hit points and hits a lot harder than your typical level 8 character. And the spell lasts for an hour, unless concentration is broken. But the T-Rex has a high constitution score, and between feats and artificer infusions (Mind Sharpener) it is easy enough to never lose concentration. So I have now two dinosaurs constantly stomping through my gothic horror campaign, like in a "Godzilla vs. Dracula" Japanese B-movie. That is fun once or twice, but gets old really quick, and somehow ruins the atmosphere the module is going for.
Fortunately in Castle Ravenloft the staircases are a lot smaller, you can't squeeze a T-Rex up or down a medieval spiral staircase. But for future campaigns, I am going to introduce a house rule that you can't polymorph somebody into the form of a beast that you have never seen (which is the same rule already applying to the druid's Wild Shape). So as long as there are no encounters with Giant Apes and T-Rexes, the players won't be able to use those forms. I also think that my players were abusing the Mind Sharpener Artificer infusion: As it is an item, it shouldn't be usable by a polymorphed character.
Story-wise, the main event in the Amber Temple was Gustav acquiring the Sunsword, the last of the three artifacts foretold to them by Madame Eva for being useful against Strahd. They also learned where Strahd's powers came from: Dark Gifts from the remnants of evil gods, imprisoned in amber blocks in the temple. The group picked up some dark gifts, each coming with a disadvantage, like skeletal wings that allow you to fly. But by this time they were all okay with being evil and looking like monsters.
When they got into Castle Ravenloft, they did get a reminder of the disadvantages of being evil. In the chapel they found a holy artifact, which does 16d10 on an evil creature voluntarily touching it (no, you can't slingshot that into Strahd as a weapon). Having some indication that while Strahd is somewhere upstairs in the castle, it would be best to first disperse the earth in his grave, the group headed downstairs into the crypt, where we will continue next time.
Labels: Dungeons & Dragons