Chapter 13 – The Amber Temple

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The Amber Temple, better known as the TPK (Total Party Kill) temple. This place is as mysterious and dangerous as it gets. The real danger here is that nothing stops a party of level 5 PCs from coming here in search of Strahd’s information or one of the magic relics needed to fight him. The adventure suggests this place is an appropriate challenge for a level 9 party. Even that can prove dangerous depending on how things unwind inside the temple.

The place was built by good wizards to guard evil entities’ remains. Over time they were corrupted by the darkness inside and killed each other (as if these things never ended up like that). Exethanter is an evil Archmage that arrived soon after and took on the task of guarding the temple. He eventually achieved lichdom and turned the other mages’ remains into flame skulls. This is a large dungeon whose only purpose is to either find a magical relic, or find out how Strahd came by his powers, maybe even striking a deal or two with one of the evil vestiges.

Cold Weather

The temple is carved out of Mount Ghakis and it’s in a permafrost state. Unless the PCs have heat sources and weather gear, they will suffer the effects of Extreme Temperatures as stated in the DMG (page 110). If the players came via the Tsolenka Pass, then they probably did not get this far without turning back to buy appropriate gear. The real problem arises if the party got here by accident while teleporting from Castle Ravenloft in the hourglass room. If that is the case then the party are in real danger from freezing to death. Unless they get killed in the temple anyway.

 

Kasimir Velikov

If Kasimir has survived this far. It’s a good opportunity to use him. There’s a good chance he is accompanying the party since he’s one of the few who know the temple’s location. If he didn’t come with the PCs, you can have him show up here. He probably would not be aggressive towards the party since they have a better chance of surviving by working together.

Kasimir’s objective as previously stated, is to bring his sister back to life. Patrina Velikovna currently lies in Ravenloft’s crypts and has become a banshee. He is not familiar with the temple in any way. His goal is to reach area X42 and use the east sarcophagus which confers the dark gift of Zhudun, the Corpse Star. If Kasimir is successful in returning to Ravenloft and restoring her to life, she comes back as an archmage. However she has her own agenda.

This development is all around the book, some of it is explained in Kasimir’s entry (page 232), some more in Patrina’s crypt 21 entry (page 89), and the rest of it is stated at the end of the Amber Temple chapter in “Kasimir’s Dark Gift” (page 196)

 

Rudolf Van Richten and/or Ezmeralda d’Avenir

The famous vampire slayers. It is highly possible they are present during this chapter. Either they came with the party or can arrive soon after. As a personal suggestion that worked really well in my games. Either one of them can show up with the goal of finding out the origin of Strahd’s powers so that they also can take advantage of it. Fight fire with fire so to speak. When the party finds the first batch of Amber Vaults, and a member of the party speaks and makes a deal with an evil entity, that will be enough to break Rudolf’s or Ezmeralda’s resolve. They will understand that by accepting, one is becoming more of a monster and less of a man. This is particularly dramatic if the party member acquires a visible sign of his evil transformation. Any of them will not take any gifts and will try to convince the party not to, for their sake.

“Please don’t do it. There’s no way we could have anticipated this, even I did not imagine this was part of the deal. Let’s remain human and fight Strahd as we are”

 

TPK Potential

After the first hallway in the temple, the PCs find themselves in some kind of balcony overseeing area X5. Over 100 ft. in front of them, there is a statue where and arcanaloth is hiding in magical darkness. And up behind arrow slits in area X17, there are three flame skulls ready to fire as soon as the arcanaloth does.

Unless any party member has superior darkvision, there is no way for them to see the statue due to the temple being in darkness. And going down those stairs in area X4 seems like the logical way to go. The arcanaloth attacks on sight and since he’s hiding in darkness he’s got the upper hand and a surprise round. Next turn the party acts, but also the flame skulls. The party will have no way to see the arcanaloth through the magical darkness, for all they know it is the statue that attacked them and they might shoot at it, wasting their turn.

There’s no way to foolproof this or lower its difficulty for the sake of game. This is how the temple is guarded, it’s not supposed to be a cakewalk. The appropriate course of action is to have the arcanaloth open up with Chain Lightning, and then use Finger of Death in the next round. That round the flame skulls will fire a Fireball each. Depending on the level of the party, this can be the end of it, an instant TPK. At higher levels this might bring down a party member or two and let the party try to escape. A high level party as suggested by the module can choose to hold their ground and try to fight. However, if they are down in X5, the arcanaloth is still hiding and the flame skulls are behind superior cover. It’s NOT an easy fight.

If the party goes left instead of down in area X4 or if they enter the temple through the back door in X1a, they arrive to area X15. There’s a mid-level fight waiting for them here with 1 gladiator, 5 berserkers and 1 dire wolf. If the party goes north from here to area X17, they stumble across the three flame skulls. Again, depending on the party level, if the party just fought the barbarians then taking three simultaneous Fireballs can prove too much. As a reward for their courage, they find a Staff of Frost, which is a cool enough magic item, except for on thing. It comes with a personality flaw “I crave power above all else, and will do anything to obtain more of it.”

This flaw and the fact that the party will be offered numerous dark gifts will become a problem in itself. The spellcaster who uses this staff is almost bound to take the gifts, since they offer so much power. This starts to build a scenario where, after the temple, the PCs might try to kill each other. The three flame skulls scenario repeats itself in area X33a, where they also attack on sight.

Another TPK opportunity lies in area X24. A seemingly safe room that features a faceless obsidian statue. Any creature who enters the room is subject to an Antipathy/Sympathy spell designed to make any who fails approach and worship the statue. If by any chance all of the party members fail the save (DC 16 Wisdom), then they will have no way to abandon the room thereafter. This magical effect is continual and has no expiration. The party will starve to death eventually. Particularly dangerous for low level parties.

There are also two Amber Golems (stone golems) going around patrolling. They’re tough enough and attack any PC on sight.

 

Exethanter, the failing lich

As explained in the Lich and Demilich entry in the Monster Manual, a lich must feed mortal souls to his phylactery. If he fails to do so long enough, his body starts decaying and over time the only thing remaining is the skull, a demilich.

Exethanter is going through this process, but he’s right in the middle. His body is starting to fail and his memory is lost. Due to regular D&D paranoia or murder hobo-ing, the party might attack Exethanter on sight and it won’t stand much of a chance since he only has cantrips and 99 HP. There’s still a fair chance the party will give it time to speak since it is in no way aggressive nor does it look dangerous.

If the party casts a Greater Restoration spell then Exethanter’s memories are restored. Since he has always been of a knowledge giving attitude, he will explain how the temple and the vaults work. If the party offer a second restoration spell then his body goes back to normal. Out of gratitude, the lich will guide them through the temple personally. Doing this pretty much ends the danger in the temple, as no creature in the temple will attack them then. If they got this far, that is.

Exethanter is a very interesting figure, while he is evil. He is not aggressive and can even be helpful. He holds no friendship or enmity towards Strahd or any of the amber vault’s entities. That’s not to say he is not looking forward to see good natured beings corrupted by the evil entities in the temple. If the party comes back to him after receiving some dark gifts, or if the lich himself is present when this happens. Don’t forget to describe how the red glint of his eyes intensifies for a few seconds as he is entertained.

 

The amber treasures

Contrary to the module’s stingy attitude towards magic items. This place is full of them. Here’s a list of the stuff included and where it can be found:

  1. Wand of secrets, Area X2b, page 183.
  2. Arcanaloth’s spellbook and Robe of Useful Items, Area X5a, page 184.
  3. Staff of Frost, Area X17, page 187.
  4. Accurate model of Ravenloft and Tome of Understanding, Area X20, page 187.
  5. Ewer of Wine, Area X22, page 188.
  6. The Incants of Exethanter, Area X27, page 189.
  7. Shield Guardian, Area X35, page 194. (Control Amulet in area X9)
  8. Wall of Fire spell scroll, Area X38, page 194.

Treasure number 4, the model of Ravenloft is a very interesting find. It’s an accurate model and the party can take the time to copy it or get from it any info about the castle’s areas they want.

Another very interesting treasure is in area X30. The spell books in the library hold ALL spells in the PHB. That’s an awesome treasure that I don’t believe was ever presented in any D&D game, I might be wrong though. The only caveat is that the books cannot leave the room. But a wizard can stay there for a while copying any spell he wants.

 

The Dark Gifts

This is the bee’s knees in the Amber Temple. Slivers of sheer darkness are buried in huge blocks of amber that serve as their eternal prisons. They are however very much “alive”. They are the source of Strahd’s powers and they are the forces that tore the Valley of Barovia from the material plane and into a pocket demiplane. Find my dark gifts compendium here:

The vaults are protected by passwords and some of them by guardians. Exethanter can be of great help because he knows all the passwords. Be careful because this part of the module can break the adventure. It did in some games of mine. Each time a PC accepts a Dark Gift, he will also acquire a sinister visible scar of the deal. Each is described individually for each sarcophagus. The alternative is a dark personality trait. Regardless of which, if the PC is not evil, there is a Charisma saving throw (DC 12), if it is failed, the PC becomes evil. The book states in page 191 that a character becoming evil this way becomes an NPC under the DM’s control. Of course you can still let the player keep control of the PC, just as long as he’s willing to really role play the evil alignment and any other sinister traits he got.

A mid-ground alternative is to let the player keep control of the PC but warn him that given particular circumstances, you might enact control over the PC, according to the Dark Powers’ will. Some players will consider DM taking control a ridiculous thing and would prefer to give the PC up and roll a new one. Or roleplay it in such an evil way that the PC practically kills himself. No matter the decision you take, it’s important to remember that while this is a dread module, the intention is for everyone to have fun.

In the end, half the party becoming evil, with dark personality traits will probably destroy the party’s cohesion. I’ll give some tips on how to handle this at the end of the chapter.

The Amber Vaults hold dark entities which will offer a gift through a telepathic link. The book relays information for each entity. They give you the name of the gift and a name for the evil shard. From this you’re supposed to come up with an evil voice from beyond and offer the gift paraphrasing the intended result. Do not, under any circumstance explain in game terms what the gift’s abilities are. Nor should you describe in any way the consequences for taking said gift. I have added a compendium of the different dark gifts’ dialogue boxes for the amber sarcophagi here.

Examples:

1.- The dark gift of Tarakamedes, the Grave Wyrm, gives the beneficiary a set of skeletal wings and a flight speed of 50 ft. However the beneficiary will have to eat bones and grave dirt to survive.

I am Tarakamedes, the Grave Wyrm, I offer you a gift of dark power. With it, the sky will be yours and you will find no limit.

2.- The dark gift of Yrrga, the Eye of Shadows gives truesight 60 ft. to the beneficiary. However the wearer’s eyes become starry voids and he gets this trait. “I believe that all life is pointless and look forward to death when it finally comes.” Which pretty much dooms the PC.

I am known as Yrrga, the Eye of Shadows. You would do well by accepting the gift I offer. No secret will ever escape you. All knowledge will be in your grasp. Life is pointless so there’s no time to waste searching for its secrets.

3.- The dark gift of Norganas, the finger of Oblivion gives the beneficiary the ability to cast Finger of Death as an action three times. His blood also turns pitch black like tar. This is permanent.

A curious fluid blood is, don’t you think? It flows red but it can easily bring death, I say it ought to be black. My gifts confers you the power to make this judgment. All you have to do is accept it, and you will have the power to judge anyone in your way.

 

The main Amber Vault

Area X42 is the real place of interest. It holds the three more powerful dark gifts. The power to become a lich, the power to become a vampire and the power to bring back from the death any creature, regardless of how far past it died.

The lichdom gift is a no brainer since it requires a spellcaster able to cast 9th level spells. However it is my advice that any spellcasting PC could get it. It’ll be of no use to the player since 9th level spells are not available. However he gets this personality trait “All I care about is acquiring new magic and arcane knowledge.” Which is a fun trait to break the party’s cohesion somewhat further. And who knows, maybe you’ll continue this game past level 10 and someday this player will actually become a lich. Something most players will never experience.

The vampire’s gift is the real deal-breaker. There will be at least one player willing to get it. The benefits of this gift do not apply until one of the two conditions are met. The first one would happen if said PC kills a party member, betraying him and drinking his blood. Similar to Strahd betraying and killing his own brother.

The second condition requires the PC to be killed violently by creatures that hate him, such as Strahd or other murderous party members. This is similar to Strahd being killed by the guards after Sergei’s murder. The player will also receive this trait: “I am surrounded by hidden enemies that seek to destroy me. I can’t trust anyone.”

The last gifts can restore life to any creature. Kasimir wants this and he would be the first to take it if he gets here, to revive Patrina. If a PC gets this gift he will be able to bring back to life any party member or NPC that died already. There’s no time limit and therein lies its danger. As written, a clever PC might immediately go back to Argynvostholt and revive Argynvost. Other strong options to revive are the Abbot, Rudolf Van Richten and Vladimir Horngaard.

What happens now?

As stated before, many of these dark gifts and their related traits can easily break party’s cohesion. In one of my games, a player took the vampyr’s gift and two sessions later he and another player fought and killed each other. The first became a vampire and abandoned the game. I must say this was planned by that player and me. He wanted to become a vampire but I explained that in doing so he would no longer be a playable character. He accepted and brought the course of action to its end.

It’s all about having fun, so remember to be clear with your players. It’s all about building the best story possible, and if it’s got to end by the party butchering each other then so be it.

In case this happens, if the party level is still low-ish, then rolling up new players is the best way to go. If this happens at level 9 and the party loses a member or two. They might now be able to revive each other, or might not want to, since the dead PC might be evil now. What I did, since Rudolf and Ezmeralda were still alive, was just to buff them up a little and give them to my two players as PCs. So the party that went then to face Strahd was two original PCs plus Rudolf and Ezmeralda.

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