[RPG] How is the Old Bonegrinder supposed to be appropriate for 4th level


Spoiler Warning

This question is about Curse of Strahd. It is essentially a completely-spoiler question, so, if you plan to run it (as a player) and you do not want to get spoilers, avoid reading this question or the answers. I will still try to use the spoiler block when appropriate, but keep in mind some things might slip.


So, if we check p. 6, in the Introduction of Curse of Strahd, it states that the Old Bonegrinder is a 4th level area. However, that area contains

Three Night Hags, each one being CR 7 (as they are in a coven), as well as possibly Nine Dretches that Morgantha can summon.

This makes me confused about what is the point of this area. My assumption is that the characters are supposed to

rescue the two children (or three – if they didn't stop Lucian from being kidnapped, I guess) and stop the operation of the windmill

but I doubt the monsters in the area will let them do that without a fight. They can try a stealthy approach to accomplish the goal I mentioned, but that's very dicey – failing a Stealth roll might be deadly here.

Even if they manage to split the monsters, that still may be a deadly encounter.

So, essentially, what I am asking is: what is the goal of this area and how is that appropriate for 4th level characters? Alternatively: Am I missing something that makes this way easier than I am thinking and doesn't lead to a TPK in half of the possible scenarios?

Note: Yes, I do understand that they could just approach the Windmill, see the Raven, listen to its advice and turn away. What I am asking is: what is the actual goal of the area that is supposedly appropriate for 4th level? I don't think taking a look in the windmill and turning their backs is exactly a goal (or running away after Morgantha tells them to.)

Best Answer

You say "TPK" like its a bad thing ...

There are groups that adopt a style of play where the onus is on the players to assess risk and to pay the price when they get this wrong. These groups scoff at your namby-pamby ideas of "level-appropriate challenge".

Curse of Strahd is explicit that this is an appropriate and encouraged style of play in keeping with its theme of gothic horror. Characters in Strahd are tragic heros - both the PC protagonists and the NPC antagonists - there is no escape from their destiny as the Epilogue makes very clear.

If this is an alien mindset then this module may not be for you.

The module gives guidance

From the Introduction (my emphasis):

The adventure is meant for characters of levels 1-10 and includes threats for those levels and beyond. Strahd can be an especially deadly challenge at these levels.

much of the adventure involves social interaction and exploration, rather than combat,

Be prepared for the fact that the adventure is exceedingly open-ended-one of the hallmarks of the original Ravenloft. The card reading in chapter 1 and the adventurers' choices can lead them all over the map, and a party can easily wander into an area well beyond their power. If you'd like to steer them toward places that correspond to their level, consult the Areas by Level table, but beware of undermining the sense that the characters' choices matter. Sometimes the adventurers will simply need to flee or hide when they are out of their depth.

The last highlighted sentence here can be a totally foreign concept to many players. As a DM, you need to be very clear that a) this is an option and b) you should use this option right now!

This is not a combat encounter

These monsters are more than willing to make a deal - they can probably make the PCs an offer they can't refuse given what they have to bargain with (and always assuming your PCs actually care about that). Just remember:

Dark Bargains. Arrogant to a fault, hags believe themselves to be the most cunning of creatures, and they treat all others as inferior. Even so, a hag is open to dealing with mortals as long as those mortals show the proper respect and deference. Over their long lives, hags accumulate much knowledge of local lore, dark creatures, and magic, which they are pleased to sell.

Hags enjoy watching mortals bring about their own downfall, and a bargain with a hag is always dangerous. The terms of such bargains typically involve demands to compromise principles or give up something dear especially if the thing lost diminishes or negates the knowledge gained through the bargain.

Faust's story is entirely in keeping with Strahd's theme of gothic horror.

These creatures aren't necessarily encountered together

There is an opportunity to divide and conquer which makes the whole thing much easier. There is a specific encounter with one of these creature's elsewhere and earlier. If your players deal with this one then, as mine did, the CR and the expected level are much more closely aligned.