This is it, the final dungeon. The players either destroy Strahd, or die trying. Fun!
Catch up on everything that led to this:
It’s hard to give a session report on a dungeon crawl, where the plot is thin but the action is thick. Instead I’ll do this in broad strokes and cover the important bits.
Going in to the castle, the players knew this would be a tough dungeon crawl. But they also knew (from way back in a card reading) that “He lurks in the depths of darkness, in the one place to which he must return”. So their plan was head downwards, into the crypts, and seek a fight with Strahd as quickly as possible while they were still fresh.
Strahd however, knew they were coming, and also knew they had that damned Sunsword. His plan was to send his minions to attack the ranger and steal the sword, so that he could then kill them all at his leisure (or let his castle traps do it for him).
After escaping from a terrifying/hilarious teleportation trap, the party were ambushed by undead in the catacombs of the castle. This would be fine, but unfortunately Strahd also sent his manservant Rahadin, who proceeded to wreck the party. It wasn’t long before the Sunsword-wielding ranger was down, at which point Rahadin grabbed the sword and started running.
The group soon lost sight of him in the maze of the catacombs, but he was wounded and bleeding, and so leaving a trail they could (just about) follow.
There now followed a frantic, madcap, badly-thought-out (on the DM’s part) chase through the castle. There was no time to use caution: doors were kicked in, windows smashed, and spells burned. It was brilliant. It also didn’t really go too badly for them, I think the worst that happened was someone slipped off the roof and took a bunch of falling damage.
They eventually found themselves fighting their quarry in a secret room, near the belfry above the chapel; which also contained Strahd’s secret stash inside a Daern’s Instant Fortress.
And who should show up to take ownership of the sword, but Strahd himself! Unfortunately (for him) the wizard had a bag of silver cutlery ad the spell ‘Animate Object(s)’. Good god that spell hurts! Strahd made his escape, and the players divided up the sexy new items they’d found.
A bit broken and bruised, and with barely two spell slots to rub together, the party decided to bed down for the night and get some sleep. Right in the room they’d just fought Strahd.
Now I’m a fairly lenient DM, I want the players to have fun. But you don’t get to sleep in Castle Fucking Ravenloft.
I didn’t punish them too badly, just had Strahd pop up a couple of times, annoy them and then escape. Just to make it clear that rest wasn’t an option.
Ok, they had the sword back, and had proven that could fight Strahd in the right circumstances. Time to make their way carefully down (again), and face him in his tomb. Running low on spell slots and hit dice, this was going to be tough now.
On their crawl, they came across an enormous hollow tower, with a staircase running along the inner wall, and a large glowing object at the top. They had found the Heart of Sorrow, key to Strahd’s regenerative powers! They began to attack it, and were attacked by a horde of animated weapons. Who held them up just long enough for a pack of vampire spawn to arrive.
I really enjoyed this encounter. A straight fight with 4 vampire spawn would be dull (and easily winnable by the players). But a fight at the top of a tower, against creatures that are quite good at grappling and fanatical enough to throw themselves off? Hello.
The Heart was destroyed, but the rogue didn’t make it.
Handily, there was a staircase at the bottom of the tower that took the party into the flooded catacombs. From there they eventually found a magic brazier with an inscription (I’m paraphrasing):
“something, something, teleport you around,
coloured stones take you places, blah blah
bunch of places you’re not interest in…
…Blue stone takes you to master’s lair”
It seemed that they’d found a way to their goal/doom. Time to make a few preparations and then begin:
The Final Fight
Teleporting into the crypt, they found a fairly large room, covered in soil, with an ornate wooden coffin in the middle. At once, three ‘brides of Strahd’ rose out the ground, and told them… you know what? It doesn’t really matter. The party went in looking for a fight, so a fight was had.
On the first round of combat Strahd burst out of his coffin and began murdering people. On the second round of combat Strahd was grappled and shoved by the warlock. On the third and fourth rounds of combat, he continued to be grappled because the party kept casting counterbastardspell.
He actually put up a reasonable fight, and it could have gone a lot worse for the party, but they knew how to fight him, they had a plan, and they executed it beautifully.
I’ll cover more of my feelings in a campaign post-mortem another time, but I don’t think this went too badly. There are a lot of ways for DM to either make it far too easy (have Strahd be alone, don’t move him around enough), or far too hard/not fun (use charm every turn, have him run away, summon loads of minions).
I think the best thing to say about the final fight was that the players were scared. They through everything they had into the fight, and made damn sure to hold Strahd up as much as possible, because they were never quite sure what he might use against them.
Ironically, after everything, Strahd was dealt the final blow while out of the sword’s sunlight, and so he retreated to his coffin. And someone immediately hammered a stake through his heart.
The Sun Will Come Out
That was it, it was all over! Strahd was defeated, the curse was lifted, and for the first time in centuries the sun shone on Barovia. The mists had cleared and it had rejoined the normal universe. But the world that they found themselves in wasn’t one that any of them recognised…
The party (well, those that weren’t dead) were all now incredibly wealthy, powerful and free. What would they do next?
Actually not much, because they were all to retire their characters before the new campaign, set in this new strange world. But this was the player’s chance to write their own epilogues. Perhaps a new party of adventurers would come across them in their travels?
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