You know an encounter is going to be tense when it becomes as infamous as the Old Bonegrinder in Curse of Strahd. I must confess; this is one of my favorite encounters in any published module for D&D 5e to date.

But its reputation is well earned!

This encounter can quickly become the stuff of nightmares. It is tense, disturbing, and, in most cases, deadly!

So today we are peering through the mists of Barovia and taking a little trip to that creepy windmill on the hill outside of town.

We will be going over tips for Dungeon Masters who want to run this encounter to its fullest potential.

Be warned that this is also a brutal and disturbing encounter. The nature of what the Hags are doing here can be very upsetting to some people.

That said, this is also your spoiler warning. If you are a player, you are only doing yourself a disservice if you read this article further.

You have been warned!

But with that out of the way, let’s get right into it!

What Is the Old Bonegrinder?

The Old Bonegrinder is a windmill that once served the town of Vallaki. But those days are long gone…

These days, it is the home of three very dangerous and very evil Hags. The leader of this coven is Morgantha with the other members being her daughters, Bella Sunbane and Offalia Wormwiggle.

From their base in this windmill, the Hags spread misery and suffering throughout the entire valley of Barovia.

Not only do their schemes include most of the other locations in Curse of Strahd, but they are specifically meant to prey on the despair of all those who are forever trapped in this domain.

Offering a type of release to the people of Barovia in the form of their Dream Pastries, most are unaware of the unsettling truth. The pastries are made from the children that the Hags claim as payment for their services when their parents are no longer able to afford the Dream Pastries.

Even in a land as marked by hopelessness as Barovia, an especially dark cloud looms over the Old Bonegrinder.

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Windmill

The windmill itself contains four areas: the Ground Floor, the Mill, the Bedroom, and the Attic.

Morgantha keeps most of her foul ingredients in a large cabinet here. The floor is littered with trash, bones, and clutter. Meanwhile, the Hags have a fresh batch of Dream Pastries in the oven when the party arrives.

A barrel full of greenish-black demon ichor in the room can be used by Morgantha to summon dretches to assist her. Dretches are foul and revolting even by demon standards. The ones summoned by Morgantha last for 1 hour before dissolving.

The second floor is the Mill which is where Morgantha grinds bones into powder for the pastries.

Unless the party draws her attention elsewhere, this is where they will likely encounter Morgantha. She’ll happily sell the party some pastries but will turn violent (and call her daughters down from upstairs) if the party isn’t willing to do business and refuse to leave.

The third floor is the bedroom where the Hags keep captured children in cages. Bella and Offalia are here with their current captives unless Morgantha calls them elsewhere.

Finally, a trapdoor from the Bedroom leads to the Attic. Unless predicted by the card reading at the start of the adventure, there is nothing of interest here.

Are you hungry?

Megaliths

In the area beyond the windmill are four large ancient stones covered in moss with crude carvings of cities. These megaliths were once dedicated to the four cities of paradise where the ancient gods of the land once lived.

However, the hags have defiled these stones and instead use this location to worship and give offerings to a powerful Archfey named Ceithlenn of the Crooked Teeth.

Investigating these stones opens an opportunity for players to learn more about the lore of Barovia.

Characters like Paladins or Clerics (or any character who takes an interest in the religious aspects of the adventure) will likely really engage with this as an opportunity to learn more about the Morninglord and Mother Night.

Characters who have an interest in Fey things will likely take an interest in the Hags’ rituals. There is virtually no information about Ceithlenn of the Crooked Teeth, so you might have to be prepared to take some liberties.

Ceithlenn became a HUGE part of one of my players’ stories who really engaged with that theme. Even in our new campaign, that character’s story has had a huge impact on the world itself. If you’d be interested in an article about that character’s story and how I ran Ceithlenn for my group, let me know in the comments!

Beyond some cool lore, there is nothing of any major importance here.

Why Would the Party Go to the Old Bonegrinder?

The million-dollar question is exactly that: why would the party go to this place?

They might have been warned to stay away from there by people in town. Even upon arriving, a raven attempts to warn the party that this is a very dangerous place.

But there’s something about the Old Bonegrinder that seems to call to players in this adventure. Without fail, the more they’re told to avoid the Old Bonegrinder, the more they want to investigate.

(I remember having to work very hard to keep my poker face when my party’s Bard found the windmill’s deed in the Death House at the start of the adventure. He kept saying that he can’t wait to go see “my new windmill” and I knew then that things were going to get… interesting…)

Unless the Tarokka reading at the start of Curse of Strahd hints that an item of Ravenkind is in the Windmill (it would be in the attic), this area is skippable.

However, hearing rumors of Morgantha’s activities or even seeing her collect children as payment for their parents’ reliance on Dream Pastries will probably be enough to spur many parties to deal with this evil.

Whether viewing this as an opportunity to be heroes, wanting to explore all of Barovia, or just from morbid curiosity, it’s inevitable that the party will wander into the Hags’ web.

What Makes the Old Bonegrinder So Deadly?

Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s look at why the Old Bonegrinder is so exceptionally deadly.

For starters, the party can arrive at the windmill very early into their adventure in Barovia. When the story sees them going to the town of Vallaki, the Old Bonegrinder is on the way. Being level 4 or 5 by this point, the party probably feels pretty strong.

But, used well, Hags can hit way above their Challenge Rating.

The Hags in the Old Bonegrinder are specifically Night Hags which are a CR 5 enemy. That is, to say, that one Night Hag is considered an appropriate challenge for a party of four level 5 adventurers.

The thing is, there are three Hags here…

Not to cheapen the experience, Hags also get WAY stronger when three of them are together. Now the Hags have a greatly expanded spell list and are operating as level 12 spellcasters.

Evening out the action economy, Morgantha is also able to call her Dretches out from the barrel on the Ground Floor if she’s nearby.

Lastly, if you’ve built the suspense up well, the party isn’t trying to storm into the windmill.

They are probably investigating while unwittingly getting way more over their heads than they expected. By the time they realize what the Hags are up to, it’s too late and they’re in the belly of the beast, so to speak.

This is exactly why the Old Bonegrinder is so deadly. It’s partially the power boost that comes with having multiple Hags, but it’s also heavily because of the players’ overconfidence in their characters’ abilities. They’re expecting to come out on top against a coven of Hags in their own base!

Both the Old Bonegrinder and the Death House are infamous locations in Curse of Strahd. It’s incredibly common for either (or both!) of these to be death sentences for the party!

Related: Running the Death House in Curse of Strahd

Roleplaying Morgantha’s Coven

Hags are fundamentally wicked in every sense and Morgantha’s coven is certainly no different.

Bella and Offalia are more whimsically wicked. They are constantly cackling at terrible jokes the other tells, dancing around, and singing grotesque songs.

One daughter might be talking to a party member and acting flirty to mess with the character only for the other daughter to shove her way into the conversation and continue doing the same.

Morgantha, on the other hand, is much more calculated.

When dealing with customers, she makes it a point to seem like a kindly old woman. If a customer isn’t paying a debt or tries to speak against her, however, her tone quickly shifts.

In dealing with her daughters, Morgantha is a very stern mother. She doesn’t particularly care for her daughters but tolerates them if only for the sake of maintaining the coven.

If pressed, Morgantha will gladly sacrifice one or both of her daughters to save her own skin. She reasons that she can always create more daughters but that she herself is irreplaceable.

I portray Morgantha as the longsuffering brains of the Hags’ operation while Bella and Offalia are more impulsive and seemingly dim-witted followers. (I’ve found the Stepmother and stepsisters from Disney’s Cinderella are a great reference for the Hags’ internal dynamic!)

Regardless, don’t be fooled! They are all irredeemably cruel.

A Night Hag in her true form

The Hags’ Agenda

Morgantha and her daughters want to spread as much misery as possible in Barovia. While they accept that they can’t leave, they take pleasure in knowing that neither can the other inhabitants.

The Dream Pastries that they make offer those who eat them a temporary break from reality.

In a land as hopeless as Barovia, the blissful trance state that the pastries create is something that many people desire. While the adventure module doesn’t specifically mention that these pastries are addictive, I think it only stands to reason that people would continually chase the high offered by even one night of peaceful dreams.

So, the Hags know that they have got their customers’ full attention. At a rate of 1gp per pastry, families can find themselves quickly going bankrupt. When that day comes (and it is coming!), Morgantha demands that the parents surrender a child as payment.

Note that Morgantha will not take “payments” by force if someone refuses to pay up. With every passing night, they’ll grow more desperate and selfish until they willingly pay her price.

The big goal is spreading misery and corruption. Morgantha knows that people will do terrible and irredeemable things when they’re desperate. She and her daughters are overseeing that process and taking joy in the suffering that spreads from their operation.

The Hags’ Tactics

Morgantha and her daughters don’t necessarily want trouble with the party. They want to continue sowing discord and corruption in peace.

If the party is purchasing Dream Pastries, they’ll be kind. If the party doesn’t want to purchase their goods, the Hags tell them to “begone!” and won’t waste any further time.

It’s only if the party chooses to interrupt the Hags’ operation that they’ll get spiteful. Any action that stops the Hags’ ability to make and distribute their pies is the equivalent of kicking a hornet nest.

Beloved NPCs might be compelled to give the party cursed items from the Hags or lead them on a wild goose chase. If the party interferes with the Hags’ agenda, the Hags will use their talents as gifted manipulators to respond in kind.

If it can be avoided, the Hags will not risk direct confrontation with the party. Instead, they’ll find other ways of dealing with them.

Cleverly placed plot hooks that are actually the Hags’ manipulations leading the party into dangerous areas is an efficient way for the Hags to deal with a problem by letting nature take its course while they salvage their operation.

Related: Storytime! So Fiona Took Over Vallaki in my Curse of Strahd game

Running the Old Bonegrinder

First things first, you should not be calling the Old Bonegrinder by its name. People more likely just call it “the old mill” or some other such name.

With a name like the Old Bonegrinder, you’re just begging for the players to either storm the place or just burn it down and call it a day. Not to mention, the name also gives away the surprise and horror of what is actually going on there!

When the party arrives, have the raven attempt to warn them. If the party persists, they have an opportunity to meet the Hags inside.

Many people advocate for having Morgantha be absent when the party arrives, but I’m personally not a fan of this approach. While it does make for a more fair encounter, it takes away from the ability to create the specific feeling that I like to evoke with the Old Bonegrinder encounter.

The thing about the Bonegrinder is that it gets more and more horrible with each floor. I imagine Morgantha taking a great deal of delight in showing these new “heroes” exactly how the sausage is made… err… pastries…

The Grand Tour

The tour begins with the foul ingredients on the bottom level. Morgantha might just be pulling some pastries from the oven and offers them to her “new friends” at a reduced rate as a type of “welcoming present.” If they accept, she eagerly watches them eat the pastries and asks them what they think.

Eager to share her process, she shows them various terrible ingredients in her cupboard. Building suspense, she takes the party upstairs where Bella and Offalia are. Because it’s a manual crank, she might tell one of the stronger party members to “give it a try for yourself!”

Have one of the children on the third floor make noise (crying or calling for help) and one of the daughters go up “to shut the cat up.” Meanwhile, have the other sister say something like “when did we get a cat?!” to clue the party in further to what’s happening.

If the party has tried the pies and/or helped turn the crank on the mill, Morgantha will be grinning.

As it becomes more apparent what’s happening, Morgantha will offer taunting compliments to the party members. Things like, “You liked that pie more than anyone I’ve ever seen! Are you sure you don’t want another?” or “You really are a natural with the crank… The way you ground that bone right up! You’re a natural!”

It’s a colossal game of cat and mouse for Morgantha. She wants to see just how much the party is willing to put up. If they make excuses for having to leave early, she and her daughters press the party further saying things like “oh, you’re just being polite but it’s no bother!” or “but there’s so much more to show you!”

Avoiding a TPK at the Old Bonegrinder

If the party is clever, they can still make an exit without upsetting the Hags. If they upset the Hags though, the Hags will have no intention of letting them leave… yet…

While Morgantha and her daughters are more than capable of wiping the entire party, they simply have no reason to do so. Hags just don’t operate that way and instead see sparing someone’s life as leverage to be used as a part of their schemes.

The focus is on rendering party members useless and helpless. If the Hags can incapacitate half the party, those who are still up can possibly be pressed into taking a bad deal if only to save the party’s lives.

Spells like Sleep, Eyebite, and Polymorph are excellent are removing a character from the combat. Even if the character is only incapacitated for one minute, that’s plenty of time for a deal to be struck.

In addition to the deal, the Hags will have some kind of quest for the party to go on. It should absolutely be incredibly dangerous and be a means to further advance the Hags’ own sick agenda.

Some ideas:

  • Deliver something to the witches inside Castle Ravenloft without Strahd knowing.
  • Bring them the skull of Argynvost.
  • Convince the Abbot to let them sell the pies in Krezk.
  • Surrender Rudolph Van Richten to them. (If they are aware of him and the party has made contact with him.)

I would recommend checking out my article covering Hag Bargains before your party ever arrives at the Old Bonegrinder. There are very good odds you’ll need to be ready to make some awful deals with the party as a result of this encounter!

Removing the Old Bonegrinder Altogether

It’s entirely understandable if you would rather remove the Old Bonegrinder from your Curse of Strahd game altogether.

The themes are incredibly dark and unsettling while it also adds very little to the main thread of the adventure.

While the party is trying to save Ireena from Strahd, the Hags really don’t have anything to do with that. Their greatest involvement is if one of the items of Ravenkind happens to be in their attic.

If you or your group are uncomfortable with the themes as written with the Old Bonegrinder, you can easily remove the hook without affecting much of the adventure as a whole.

Instead of a coven of Hags, you might have the windmill be:

  • A storage facility for vampire spawn
  • Equipped as a temporary hideout for Van Richten or Esmerelda (similar to the base in Khazan’s Tower)
  • Occupied by a group of Vistani
  • A secret storeroom of food and supplies for Baron Vallakovich or Fiona Wachter

I’d recommend using it for something. Otherwise, it’s just a giant dead field and a huge waste of map space. You want to put something of interest there that relates to your group’s story!

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My Group’s Experience with the Old Bonegrinder

My group had such a burning hatred for the Hags that they nearly overshadowed Strahd himself as the villain. Even when they returned at level 8 with the help of Rudolph Van Richten as an NPC ally they barely managed to beat Morgantha and her daughters.

The party’s Bard, Vlad, was insistent that the windmill was his since he found the deed in the Death House. He was more than happy to deliver the eviction notice to the Hags himself.

By this point, the party had been eating the Dream Pastries like it was going out of style. The Paladin was the only one who showed reluctance, but he still ended up eating a couple.

The look of horror when Morgantha gave them the grand tour of the windmill was striking. As the Hags kept showing the party more and more of how their operation works, everyone was clearly looking for any way to leave but couldn’t quite find an opening.

Vlad proposed a deal where the Hags could keep working but would give him a share of their profits. Even if only to humor them, they were prepared to accept until the Paladin couldn’t take it anymore.

A Humbling Experience

The Paladin called them out on their evils which was met with only laughter from the Hags. He began to charge and combat began.

Morgantha kept the Paladin occupied while Bella and Offalia focused their efforts on the other three party members.

Vlad was the first to go down from Offalia’s Sleep spell. Before Kronus, the Sorcerer, could make his way over to wake Vlad up, Bella successfully cast Hold Person before she and Offalia knocked him unconscious.

When the Paladin failed his save against Morgantha’s polymorph spell and was turned into a frog, the Hags all began laughing at Lucine, the Druid.

“Such a scared little birdie…” Morgantha taunted, “now do you want to talk and be reasonable?”

 Pleading for her and her allies’ lives, Lucine immediately agreed to the Hags’ terms. Lucine traded her own vitality which was a great enough sacrifice that the Hags only wanted Vlad’s hair (all of it) to consider it a fair trade for their lives.

Every night Morgantha would appear to Lucine and use her Nightmare Haunting feature to reduce Lucine’s maximum hit points by 1d10. Even as the party continued along the main storyline, they knew they had to return sooner rather than later if they wanted to save Lucine.

The Hags may not have been the main focus of the adventure, but they quickly became a constant and pressing complication. The party hated them so much that they ended up becoming the force behind three homebrew quests within the adventure until the party could finally get their revenge.

Even to this day, these same players view every pie vendor they meet in our new campaign with suspicion!

Conclusion – Running the Old Bonegrinder in Curse of Strahd

In every adventure, there are going to be those moments that just really crystalize in your memory. For me and my group, the Old Bonegrinder has done just that.

They had managed to get through the Death House with minimal issues and were getting used to how things work in Barovia. Every situation after the Old Bonegrinder was met with extreme caution in case they were walking into another humbling experience.

I can’t say I didn’t get into it a bit as well. Hags are my favorite creatures to use in D&D and the Old Bonegrinder gives you as much room to work with as you could possibly want!

Got questions or tips of your own for running the Old Bonegrinder in Curse of Strahd? Let’s chat in the comments!

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