Monday, July 18, 2011

Die, Strahd, Die!

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.

Great idea:)



  1. I totally agree, let Dispel Evil smoke him. Buh-bye, Strahd! The players just made their own story, it's a lot better than Tracy Hickman's.

  2. I think your logic behind why Strahd was vulnerable to the spell, due to the fact he didn't perceive such a lowly group as any real threat to him, is a reasonable one, however I doubt I would have allowed Strahd to be as vulnerable in his own keep. I wouldn't have made him invulnerable to the spell per se, but I probably would have included some way to negate it or combat it in his lair. Now, had they simply encountered him outside his lair somewhere and they pulled that, then yes, but in his own place, I probably would have ensured he had as many defenses as possible against such an attack especially considering how devastating it is to him. Still yet, I think its awesome you gave the players that moment, as I'm sure it will be one discussed around the table for years to come.

  3. I think you played it perfectly. Kudos to them for sacking the quarterback in a grand fashion. Now maybe they can stop avoiding the roaming armies of undead marching about. ;)

  4. I think you called it correctly. They made the plan and carried it out, they earned the win.

    "we should gather up his ashes to put in the trophy room at our Tower."

    They also apparently didn't watch enough of the old Hammer Studio Dracula movies :)

  5. When players make a good plan that makes sense to me, I let it ride...these are the moments we play this game for. The only way I'd have let Strahd live is if I'd decided ahead of time (prior to the player's plan) that Strahd was somewhere else and give the players an opportunity to figure it out. Otherwise you just discourage the kind of play and planning that turned Strahd into a pile of dust.

  6. I say let the dice roll as they will...

    ...question now is, who will take over the castle?

  7. I think you handled it just fine and the players are to be congratulated for a good plan that paid off.

    As for how to handle it, it's hard to see all contingencies beforehand, but, if you do, it's fine to change them before the game. For example, if I knew before the game about the power of Dispel Evil against undead, I might have altered Strahd to give him an extra save or something. But not after the players devised their plan -- or even after they had first met him.

    Sounds like everyone had a great time. :)

  8. Unless I had deliberately incorporated from square 1 some specific effect like "Strahd receives +4 to saving throws inside his castle" or some such, the the PCs did good and snuffed that bloodsucker!

  9. I (the DM) certainly knew they had the scroll - it was part of the reason I didn't mind throwing under-powered guys against Ravenloft - I was just hoping they needed to burn it somewhere else - like in the crypts. I like how Higgipedia put it - they drew up the perfect play and sacked the QB.

    Now my big question - what happens to all the undead in the castle? I'm thinking the vampires all become free-willed, and many of them will leave and pester the countryside. A recurring pain in the ass. Many of the incorporeal undead will hang about, especially if the players try to claim the castle. They'll need the Ghostbusters.

  10. I'm thinking the vampires all become free-willed, and many of them will leave and pester the countryside.

    Some would surely try to take over the castle as Strahd's "heir," each taking control of sections and perhaps trying to recruit or ally with the PCs against their former "siblings."

  11. Yep, let them have the victory. They deserved it through playing smart; taking it away from them by having Strahd return would be a cheat.

    That said, there's nothing stopping you having someone associated with Strahd come after them for revenge, and as you say, what kind of power vacuum does his disintegration leave?

  12. I think I would have either a) have made sure a 5th lvl spell didn't auto-nuke Strahd, or b) set some nasty minions on the PC's before they got close enough to deliver. But this would have been dependent on whether Strahd was a Big Boss, or merely one of many Bosses.

    In the end it comes down to what would work best in the given scenario. The bottom line is that all present had fun.

    As for the aftermath, I would think Strahd kept a lot of minor monsters in line. His death would leave a power-vacuum, and who knows if the short-term effect isn't worse than with him

  13. This is right and good and correct. This is the way of right thinking men.

    This is the way that role-playing is done well and correctly.

    You are indeed a victor.

  14. @Harald

    Remind me never to play in one of your railroaded campaigns.

  15. I think that the player's reactions are answer enough. :) When they can out-think the DM and the mod designer, well, that's a win.

    - Ark

  16. If your notes/the adventure said he was there, and they killed him then he's dead.

  17. using dispel evil on a vamp... you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. great plan? not really.

    to me this outcome seems a bit bland. better story? hm... (the asskicking of last session that made them stop and think might have been a better story though.)

    i'm with anthony on this one. once the players decide what to do, you shouldn't change the game. but giving strahd some extra protection beforehand might have been a good idea. a dispel evil scroll working perfectly in ravenloft?! it's your world. ;)

    but int the end, if everyone had a good time, it was obviously the right decision. :)

  18. You'll have to wait for the game report, shlominus.

    The replies have been interesting - part of this was to get a sense on who's a 'let the dice fall' kinda DM vs who would change things up to extend the action. Gives me an idea for tomorrow's post.

  19. Now you can have the horde of lesser vampires Strahd was keeping at bay show up and wreak havoc!!

  20. So true. I'm going to have fun inventorying all the now 'free-willed' undead and figuring out how they run amok.

  21. As someone who once had a player in a Star Wars campaign legitimately pull a blaster rifle, critical hit a Dark Jedi, and kill him mid-monologue with a single hit...

    You made the right call.

  22. Greg,

    I bet your players will be telling that story for years.

    And that's why I like that kind of thing. Letting the plans and the dice go where they will means that the story belongs to your players, not to the DM.

  23. "As someone who once had a player in a Star Wars campaign legitimately pull a blaster rifle, critical hit a Dark Jedi, and kill him mid-monologue with a single hit..."

    This is just cool, and I think every GM has had such a moment. My issue with Strahd was that (as I read the scenario) it didn't hinge on luck, but the possession of a 5th lvl spell.

    But as I said, if both GM and players are satisfied with the result, it was a righteous play.

    @ Tom:
    If the story is supposed to belong to the players and not the GM, why not just go online and play WoW? Wouldn't it be better if the story belonged to all who played it, including the GM?

    @ -C:
    Nor will you ever.

  24. "Wouldn't it be better if the story belonged to all who played it, including the GM?"

    Yes, thank you, that's how I should have said it. Typing... not... matching... thoughts... Need... more... caffeine...

  25. Good move. If you're going to let the dice fall where they may, it has to work both ways -and as usualy, doing so worked out better than you probably expected.

  26. @Harald
    "This is just cool, and I think every GM has had such a moment. My issue with Strahd was that (as I read the scenario) it didn't hinge on luck, but the possession of a 5th lvl spell."

    No. More important than luck, it was the player CHOICE of using that 5th level spell.

    The game is about player choices and their consequences. Otherwise, it isn't a game.

  27. I'm surprised the spell apparently kills major vampires so easily, but certainly as DM I would have the result stand. Anything else would be appalling DMing.

  28. If you were playing 3.Whatever edition (which is admittedly unlikely) then I would have thought it perfectly legitimate to apply Strahd's Turn Resistance to the roll, since a "destroys undead" effect is very similar to a turn. But if he still flubs the save then he's dead, no questions asked.

  29. Were you using 0E or the colored box edition? Because I just checked 1E, 2E, 3E, and 3.5E, and in none of those editions does Dispel Evil have the power to destroy vampires. O_o

  30. @yunafonfabre: We were using Classic D&D at the time, the 1981 Moldvay red and blue books. A modern clone version is Labyrinth Lord. You're right, there's a big difference between how Dispel Evil works across the editions!

  31. Hmmm... I just had an epiphany. I "strategize" almost every move I make as a PC in my games.

    The mitigating factor is that I mostly play PbP games, due to time/familial/whatever constraints. While the pace is a bit slower (3 months of PbP = 1 day of FtF), I get to a) play more than one game at a time and b) get to participate in a bit of gaming almost every day. Plus, the style suits my propensity to think through my actions quite carefully and come up with the best plan.

    And we're fortunate enough, in one game, anyway, to have a GM who loves that we've overcome the last few scenarios by relying on planning as much as brawn and brute force. In fact, we're play-testing a module and he reported that most of the other groups had TPK'd way before they'd gotten as far as us. So apparently the module isn't designed for the charge-headlong-into-battle-every-time types.

    So when my halfling thief two-hitted an ogre and dropped him (... open clearing surrounded by dark groves of trees, wand of enemy detection pointed out a general location of the ogre when the party smelled a trap, thief uses boots of elven kind and good dice rolls to sneak around the clearing using trees for cover, spots ogre crouching next to some boulders, thief climbs boulder and backstabs ogre for 3x (almost max) damage (5th level thief in OSRIC-rules campaign). Thief wins initiative roll for first round and rolls max damage again, slaying ogre...) all he could do was smile (err... it was a virtual smile) and give accolades.

    The nice thing about this style with a PbP game is that it generally doesn't detract from the pace.

  32. For the record, Boba Fett didn't die in the Sarlacc and they ended up bringing Darth Maul back, so take that as you will. You may "kill" a villain or anti-hero for the scene, but that doesn't mean they need to remain dead for the story or the saga.