Chapter 6 – Old Bonegrinder

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This old mill is located near the main road that leads to the Town of Vallaki. Adventurers will see the mill from the road and might wish to explore it, especially since they might have found the deed to the mill in the Death House a while back.

The deed leaves the mill in possession of Thornboldt and Rosavalda Durst. Who are dead and probably resting in peace. The players might infer that, since they hold the deed to the mill, they are the owners now. Regardless of their interpretation of this fact, the mill is now home to three witches, Morgantha, Bella and Offalia. Morgantha is the mother of the other two. Together they form a Coven, which gives the three of them more magical power.

These witches are in the business of making pies from children bones. They snatch children from the towns of Barovia and/or Vallaki, eat them, and then use the remains to bake pies. The pies are addictive and have psychoactive properties. They sell the pies to other people in exchange for gold, when people don’t have any gold left (as is the case of many addicts), they can take children as payment. The party witnessed this in Barovia, when Morgantha took a young boy as payment (page 48).

The theme here is a very dark one. It is in my opinion the grimmest section of the setting, since it takes on human trafficking, children and drugs. Depending on your group you can let them see the dark tone in its fullest, or maybe dial down the evil/sad stuff a bit. You might even want to ask people before playing if certain subjects are cool to tackle on.

 

The encounter

This encounter includes the three night hags with the Coven abilities, and up to nine dretches. The party will be level 4 or maybe 5 when they first approach the mill. In this case, they are going to lose the battle if this is an open confrontation. This is one of the toughest encounters in the setting. That is why, Ismark and some other NPC’s advice not to get near it since everybody says it’s cursed. Also, there is a member of the wereraven faction on patrol there, he will try to warn the party to stay away without revealing his true form (page 127).

Hag’s Covens are explained in page 177 of the Monster Manual. What’s important is to note that the spells listed there can be cast by any of the hags, but the slots are shared. It’s a common pool. It’s still really dangerous since the three of them could shoot a Lightning Bolt at the same time and fry the party. Other powerful spells they have are Sleep, Hold Person, Counterspell, and Polymorph. If the party is level 6, or a strong level 5 party, let them clash. But if they party is level 4 and decides to explore the mill, there are ways to run the encounter successfully.

Take into account that the mill is very reduced in space, if the PCs are inside the building the fight will be a cramped one. The dretches can come out and restrain characters simply by being around, move them as a protection for the hags, they can also keep members from the party from going inside the mill or covering the staircase access. If the battle is outside or half outside, a hag can shoot her magic from the second floor window. Reduced space and maneuverability are a big thing in D&D tactical game, how the PCs position themselves in the mill in relation with the hags and dretches can win or lose them the encounter.

 

Roleplaying the hags and encounter alternatives

Morgantha and the other hags have it easy in Barovia, no one stands in their way and Strahd does not care for them. They even have an unknowing spy inside Ravenloft, Cyrus Belview is in possession of the Coven Eye. The hags have information on the castle, what they are planning to do or why they gifted the eye to Cyrus is anyone’s guess.

If the hags see a possible confrontation, they will first try to talk their way out of the spot. In the end, they lose if any of the hags is killed because the Coven is broken, so they will avoid unnecessary confrontations. In face of danger they can go ethereal and call it a day, not before shooting some bolts of lightning or other damaging spells. Or they can also soften the party up and then shoot massive sleep spells and imprison the party to become pies later.

An alternate scenario is that the Coven is not present when the adventurers arrive, one of the hags might be out snatching children or selling pies. Without the three hags together, they can’t cast any of the Coven spells and this greatly reduces their deadliness. Still two regular night hags and the 9 dretches are a good challenge.

A different alternative is to have the battle come in waves, the dretches can come out of the barrel one by one or in pairs. And a hag might be out but arrive shortly. Or she could be in the top floor finishing something before coming down and helping the other hags fight the intruders.

There are two children in the bedroom of the mill (page 128). Freek and Myrtle were taken from the Village of Barovia. They do not want to return to their homes because little as they are, they understand that they were traded for drugs. They prefer to be taken in by Ismark or Ireena. This will mean they party will escort the kids and Ireena to Vallaki. It would be appropriate to have Father Lucian Petrovich welcome the children at the church in Vallaki.

 

End Consequences

If the party is defeated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all dead. A few of them should, the hags will leave the bodies away from the mill to be eaten by crows. Only then can they be brought back by the dark powers. If any or some PCs are still alive but defeated, the hags will imprison them to be killed or eaten later. How to exit this quandary? There’s two ways. The surviving and revived PCs can try to break their friends out from the mill when two hags are out. Alternatively the Keepers of the Feather could help the prisoners escape. After all they have been keeping an eye on the mill for a time.

On the other hand, if the party wins, it doesn’t mean the hags are dead. At least not all of them. The hags can Plane Shift as an action and go ethereal at any time. With the battle all but lost, it will be an awesome plot device to have at least one hag escape and plot revenge. The surviving hag can then follow the party from the ethereal plane and target whoever won its enmity the most with its Nightmare Haunting ability. For a level 4 party this is really powerful and could really affect the party. It’s specially important when using this ability, that you don’t reveal to the party what is causing the nightmares and the HP reduction. Just describe the visions and the effects. Hopefully the party will take a while in finding out who the real culprit is. It’s a really powerful ability that goes with the theme of Barovia. In one of my games, the players traveled to Vallaki, then Krezk and the Wizard of Wines with the hag in tail causing havoc. It took them a long time to try the spells they needed to protect the barbarian who was the target. By the time they could stop the attacks, the Barbarians max HP was 9. Even when they inferred that the hag was causing this, they had no way to stop her or confront her. It ended up with the PCs begging the Abbot for help to “exorcise” the hag.

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