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Strahd’s brides snarled and hissed, spitting at the heroes. In spite of the bright sunlight shining from Gimble Timbers’ sword, they rushed forward, fearlessly attacking the party. They must protect the master. Within seconds they had separated, each one focusing on a different Associate. They grappled, bit, and clawed at the heroes, hoping to keep them off guard.
Last night was the 80th session in our epic online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign and we faced Strahd for what may well have been the final time.
For the past year and a half we have returned to Barovia on a weekly basis, spending over 160 hours running blindly around Strahd’s domain in the hope that someday we would be powerful enough to best him. Last night that final confrontation happened.
Previously in Barovia…
The campaign began as a group of adventurers stumbled upon a burning caravan in a field. From there, our group of heroes were somehow transported into Barovia and quickly found out that Strhad Von Zarovich, evil vampire extraordinaire, ruled this land and would not let anyone escape. Thus began a marathon quest to find the means to destroy Strahd.
Last session, we found our way into the crypt below Castle Ravenloft and armed with the knowledge of how to kill him, we approached his coffin. Suddenly his three vampire brides jumped out from the ground and attacked us.
Nepharon and Associates: The Kosef Division
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, carries the Staff of Frost, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, follower of St. Andell and the Morning Lord;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, owner of the Sun-Sword;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, gets electrocuted a lot;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
Kosef struggled desperately, as one of the fiendish brides had him by the throat. Brundle and Baräsh fought off another, protecting Ireena, and Gimble Timbers faced the last one alone. The light from his Sun Sword was agony for the vampire. Her dead flesh burned in its radiance and smoke rose up wherever he struck. The stench of rotten death filled the chamber.
We started the session in initiative order, carried over from last week. Baräsh went first; he could have used his Divine Smite to add extra damage to the brides, but we were being tactical and saving our big guns for Strahd. Brundle cast Shillelagh on his spear and attacked the same bride; more tactics—we were teaming up on them. Where was this strategic thinking when we began the campaign?
Kosef, meanwhile, was having problems with his magical Staff of Frost. For some reason it was discharging Wild Magic every time he used it—our DM was making the most of the fun Wild Magic table in the Player’s Handbook, apparently Strahd had tampered with Kosef’s staff while we rested last session. The result of Kosef’s latest wild magic effect was that he would now teleport 20 feet in a random direction at the end of every turn. At least this meant the Bride he was fighting couldn’t get a grip on him.
However, it was Gimble Timbers who was doing the most damage here. He carried the Sun Sword, which was dealing a phenomenal amount of damage to the vampire brides just by being in their vicinity. They each took 20 points of radiant damage every turn the Sun Sword was illuminated near them. They also couldn’t recover any lost hit points and had disadvantage on all attacks. This was the ace up our sleeve. And by the end of two rounds of combat, the three vampire brides were reduced to smoldering piles of dust, and so we paused to catch our breaths.
The room we were in was a dark, cavernous chamber with lots of alcoves along the walls.
In the heart of the chamber was a polished black marble coffin sitting on a stone plinth. It had gleaming brass fittings that seemed to glow in the half-light.
With an air of finality, we approached the coffin. Madam Eva’s prediction rang in our minds: “Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose power is beyond mortality. He lurks in the depths of darkness, in the place he must return to.” This is where we were destined to face Strahd.
Gimble Timbers took the lead. The Sun Sword he carried was glowing with brilliant radiance whilst filling his mind with the desire to destroy the vampire. As we stood around the coffin, Baräsh stepped forward and, with a natural 20 on his strength check, flung the lid of the coffin away from the plinth so it smashed on the ground. He looked inside just as a wash of necrotic energy burst out of the tomb. Baräsh was caught with a Blight spell and took 37 points of necrotic damage, but all he saw was the visage of a well-dressed man slowly descending through the floor. “Strahd, you coward! Come back!” he called.
A disembodied voice suddenly filled the room. Laughing. Strahd appeared behind us, his stealth check of 29 beat our passive perceptions so we didn’t notice. He cast Fireball at us, clustered around his coffin.
Visibly wincing at the radiance of the Sun Sword, Strahd had risen up, through the floor behind us, and cast Fireball. Then initiative began. Of course Strahd was first. He was also inside his Lair and had Legendary Actions he could use. This meant that in a single round of combat, when each of our party could take just one turn, he could effectively act six or seven times. This was going to be a tough fight.
But he was in the presence of the Sun Sword, however, and like his brides before him this caused significant disadvantages. So over the course of the first two rounds he spent most of his additional actions trying to wrestle the weapon from Gimble Timbers’ grasp. He also punched the gnome repeatedly and cast Blight on Baräsh again.
During those first two rounds we spent our turns healing ourselves, dealing with the ghoulish minions he had called up from the ground, and, in Gimble’s case, being repeatedly punched.
Strahd vs. Gimble Timbers
By the third round of combat, Gimble Timbers had taken the brunt of four big Strahd punches, a Blight spell, and Strahd’s constant mocking, and was now very low on hit points, but he somehow resisted all Strahd’s attempts at disarming the Sun Sword. What’s more, Strahd had managed to summon enough minions to distract the rest of the party so that it was only Gimble Timbers facing him.
As Strahd cast another spell, Gimble Timbers reached 0 hit points and fell unconscious. The gnome fell to the floor and dropped the Sun Sword, causing the bright radiance to be extinguished. Strahd heaved an audible sigh of relief—that was 20 points of damage per turn and disadvantage on all attacks. With that out of the way, he turned his ire towards Baräsh, who had just defeated another of his ghoulish minions.
A whole round passed before Gimble Timbers had to roll a death saving throw. The rules for death saves are simple. On your turn, you roll a d20. If you roll lower than a 10, that is one fail. Three fails and your character dies. If you roll three successes (10 or higher) you are unconscious but stable (not dead). If you roll a natural 20 on any save, you immediately regain consciousness with one hit point. Luck was certainly with us last night as on his first death save, Gimble Timbers rolled a natural 20.
Strahd has already turned to face Baräsh and was fighting him, as the indomitable gnome fighter rose up behind him. Gimble Timbers grasped the Sun Sword and reignited the blade. Strahd screamed. “Ahh! Now, Arnie! I need you!”
Baräsh and Gimble Timbers were now engaged with Strahd. They were fighting madly, while the rest of the party dealt with Strahd’s summoned minions. Once the ghouls were out of the picture, we all began to focus on the vampire too.
Sensing the tide had turned, Strahd called forth another ally. One our DM was clearly excited to see in action. From the ground near Kosef and Brundle, a giant fist punched through the stone paving. A thundering roar came up from the ground as a 12-foot-tall zombie giant smashed his way into the fight.
This was Arnie. A giant zombie our DM had concocted as one of Strahd’s final bodyguards and was role-playing like the Terminator. Brundle and Kosef’s attention fell away from the vampire as they battled the undead giant. The combination of a Grease spell and Grasping Vine incapacitated and restrained the giant. But he soon broke free. Although, thanks to the Grease spell, he didn’t manage to get close to the two party members; we thought we were safe. Then Arnie started casting a spell. Clearly this was no ordinary undead zombie giant.
It cast Cone of Cold dealing both of Kosef and Brundle 36 points of damage. In return, it received a retaliatory Cone of Cold from Kosef’s Staff of Frost and a Lightning attack from Brundle. Arnie did not survive the two attacks.
Once Arnie was out of the picture we could all turn our attention to Strahd once more. This fight had gone on for quite a while now and we were all looking worse for wear. Both Kosef and Gimble had fallen unconscious and been revived multiple times by Ireena who was doing a fantastic job at keeping us in the fight. But we weren’t the only ones who looked beaten up.
Strahd had been taking a lot of extra damage from the Sun Sword each round and had now given up trying to disarm Gimble Timbers; instead he was using all his additional actions to wail on him and Baräsh as much as possible.
When Gimble Timbers fell unconscious for the third time, dropping the Sun Sword once more, it looked like Strahd might get away, but thankfully Baräsh was on hand. He had been saving his high-powered Divine Smites for this very moment. He struck Strahd with two third-level Divine Smite hammer blows, dealing almost sixty points of radiant damage—which Strahd is particularly vulnerable to. Strahd let out a demonic wail and tried to turn and flee, but he provoked opportunity attacks from both Kosef and Brundle. Moments earlier, Gimble had been revived by Ireena and, as Brundle struck the fatal blow, Gimble Timbers ignited the Sun Sword once more.
Strahd’s body exploded in a ball of mist. For a second, it seemed to form the shape of an old man’s frail body, dragging itself back into the coffin. The mist began to sizzle and evaporate in the brilliant light of the Sun Sword. Then it turned into steam and faded away. END
We’re all in shock. Did we just kill Strahd? Is that the end? Our DM has said there will be a session next week, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Never underestimate the power of magical items. The fight with Strahd would have gone a whole lot differently if the Sun Sword wasn’t in play. Which is why Strahd’s tactic from the start was to try to disarm Gimble Timbers. But just like real life, the machinations of evil vampires don’t always go to plan. Also, if you think a fight might be too easy, there’s nothing wrong with adapting—or changing entirely—encounters in a pre-made adventure. Without the additions of Arnie and some summoned ghouls to distract us in this fight, we would have been able to overwhelm Strahd in just a couple of rounds without much fear of failure. However, as it happened, adding in these additional monsters meant our attention was split and this gave Strahd a far better chance of survival.
Player Tip: Reserving your best attacks for the last minute can work really well and add a real sense of theater to a final boss battle, but only if you remember to use them. Luckily for us, Baräsh did remember his level three Divine Smite, but it wouldn’t have been the first time if one of us had forgotten to use a cool power or essential ability.
Next week we will see what the aftereffects of Strahd’s demise are. We’ll also have to try to escape the Castle, which seems to be crumbling around us.