My group killed Strahd last night - destroyed him, literally. I'll get around to a game report this week, but the story of how he died is worth discussing on its own merits.
Discouraged by getting the snot kicked out of them last week, they dug deep and spent half the session pooling resources and making battle plans - very strategic, fun stuff. Planning is fun. Digging through the inventory meant reviewing every spell scroll for any advantage. It went kind of like this:
"On this one, we have Dispel magic, Sticks to Snakes, Speak with Animals, Continual Light, Dispel Evil…"
Stop. "What did you just say? Dispel Evil? Doesn't that destroy undead?"
Frantic flipping of pages. Boo yah - they had a nuclear option. And that's what happened - wandering the castle looking for Strahd's study, they found the vampire waiting for them in his sitting room. He charmed Forlorn to hand over the Book of Unspeakable Shame, and while the group focused on wrestling Forlorn, Mordercai popped off the Dispel Evil scroll and employed the WIN button.
Strahd burst into flames and quickly reduced to a pile of ash.
Okay, okay - I was suddenly presented with all sorts of questions. Was that really Strahd? Is the story of the vampire bigger than the game - meaning he can only be destroyed dramatically and theatrically, ideally after fighting the way to the tomb and staking him through the heart? You can't kill my villain like that!
Boba Fett fell into a worm's mouth and Darth Maul got cut in half - that's all I'm saying. Villains frequently die like chumps.
The group had also been sitting on a scroll with a Commune spell, and figured this was a good time to reach out to the higher powers - "Did we really just destroy the vampire, Strahd?" And the universe answered: YES.
So - here's the question to readers, and it goes right to the heart of your DMing style - would you have done something to make Strahd immune to certain high level spells (Raise Dead wouldn't slay him, or Dispel Evil wouldn't destroy him)? If this happened to you, would you have made it a double or replica or decoy Strahd to draw things out?
I'm really comfortable with how it turned out. I try to avoid Illusionism and fudging dice and the railroad, and this was a good plan, executed well. Strahd may be a genius, but in his arrogance, he failed to perceive the 4th-5th level guys as a threat, he lost initiative, and he failed a save. BOOM. Dead boss villain. The group erupted in cheers when they learned the pile of smoking ashes was indeed the great vampire. One of the guys said it was the coolest game moment in 30 years of D&D. This is an excerpt of some emails the players passed back and forth late last night:
Wow, I'm still blown away, I can't believe it! Good job everyone. That was totally Awesome!
It really didn't sink in until the drive home. I'm as blown away as Strad. Z- had a good idea on the ride - we should gather up his ashes to put in the trophy room at our Tower.