Within Dungeons & Dragons, Strahd is one of the most dangerous villains to face in his own lair. We’re bringing you this guide to help make sure you play him to his fullest capabilities, and give your players a satisfying conclusion to their adventure!
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As a former general, Strahd boasts a level of combat and military aptitude that is present in few other Dungeons & Dragons villains. Despite any skills that Strahd may possess as a character, however, he can only fight as well as the Dungeon Master can run him.
The goal of this chapter is to provide you with insight and tips on how to get the most out of Strahd during the final battle, and provide your party with an appropriately difficult encounter.
Prepare for Battle
One of Strahd’s greatest assets is his level of preparedness prior to any battle. He does everything within his power to learn all that he can about his enemy and their tactics. He has enough spies throughout Barovia that very few things about the characters are a secret from him. Also, given the proper materials, Strahd himself can scry on the party to view them firsthand.
Before they fight Strahd for the final time, gather the character sheets of your party together and study them. Memorize their abilities, and take into consideration the tactics the party has used in past encounters. How did they use their powers? How did they work together? How might they use these abilities within the labyrinthine halls of Castle Ravenloft?
In regards to Castle Ravenloft, also take some time to study the map of the castle. Its twisting halls, tall spires, and unconventional layout make it a worthy opponent in its own right. You would do well to memorize as much of it as possible. As practice, pick a random point in the castle and try to find your way out, or to some other point of interest (such as the Heart of Sorrow). Knowing your way around the castle will help you prepare Strahd’s battle plan, and run a smooth game session.
Few creatures are as fast and agile as Strahd when he is encountered within his own lair. Using his legendary actions, Strahd can move an additional 90 feet per round without incurring opportunity attacks. Combined with his base movement speed, that means he can move up to 120 feet per round, and 150 feet per round if he uses the Dash action.
His mobility is increased dramatically when combined with his lair action of moving through the walls of Castle Ravenloft. Any wall, floor, or ceiling of the castle becomes permeable to Strahd, letting him move in nearly any direction without impedance. This ability allows Strahd to very quickly put great distances between himself and the characters, either to heal himself or to plan his next attack.
Dealing with the Holy Symbol
The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind has two abilities of particular concern to Strahd: sunlight and hold vampires. Both have a range of 30 feet. Combined with the movement speed of the character wielding it, the effective range of the symbol is usually between 60 and 90 feet.
Strahd’s high mobility is key to mitigating any damage that the symbol might do to him, or that it enables the characters to do to him. So long as a character has the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Strahd will do his best to be out of the symbol’s effective range at the start of its wielder’s turn. Using his lair action to phase through the castle’s solid surfaces or to lock particular doors, this should be a fairly easy task.
As written, Strahd has a +14 bonus to his Stealth skill. This means that even if he rolls a 1 on the Hide action, he still scores a 15. Compared to the hypothetical maximum passive Perception score of a 19 for a 10th level character, Strahd will succeed on any stealth action if he rolls a 5 or higher—that’s an 80% success rate! Strahd’s stealthiness, combined with his mobility, make him an ideal hit-and-run enemy.
Using his high intelligence, Strahd can anticipate where characters are likely to go within his castle, and then head them off. Once there, he can take the Hide action to blend into the shadows of a dark corner. When the characters arrive in the area, he can then unleash a devastating fireball (or some other spell) that the characters are unable to counterspell. After casting, he may then use his movement and his lair action to phase through a nearby surface, out of sight and range of the characters.
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Strahd’s healing capabilities are far beyond that of any other creature that the characters have encountered in Barovia. Every round that he is not in sunlight or running water, and has not taken radiant damage, Strahd regains 20 hit points. With a hit point maximum of 144, he can regenerate to full health within 8 rounds.
As a military genius, Strahd is no stranger to the concept of a tactical retreat. Whenever his hit points are reduced by half, or the characters begin to get the upper hand in battle, Strahd will do his best to leave the area and get to a safe spot where he can regenerated and regroup.
There are few things that Strahd has in abundance more than allies. Between his legendary actions, his children of the night ability, and the other denizens of Castle Ravenloft, Strahd has no shortage of help to call upon in battle.
Prior to engaging with the party, Strahd can use his children of the night ability to summon swarms of bats, rats, or a pack of wolves. While these creatures aren’t a threat to characters in terms of the damage they can do, they can use the Help action to distract characters. This causes the distracted character to attack at disadvantage, and grants Strahd advantage on attacks against them. If Strahd is in a position where he has disadvantage, then these helpful allies can eliminate that disadvantage. Such allies aren’t likely to last for long, however, due to their low hit points. Characters are likely to target these allies instead of Strahd in order to eliminate the advantage that they grant him.
When Strahd is a safe distance away from the party, and they are distracted by additional enemies, he may choose to use his lair actions to rip shadows away from one or more characters to spawn a shadow. Characters with low Charisma scores are the primary targets here. The newly-created shadow will use its strength drain ability on a character with a low Strength score, such as a spellcaster.
Aside from allies that Strahd must use his own actions to summon, allies such as Rahadin and the consorts can fight against the characters. Rahadin’s deathly choir is particularly useful in disrupting spellcasters’ concentration on their spells, and his melee combat abilities are formidable.
Bucephalus can also prove to be a useful ally to Strahd during the final battle. The nightmare’s ability to travel in the ethereal plane means that he can be near the battle without being spotted by the characters. Bucephalus can follow Strahd around Castle Ravenloft, or wait for him at strategic points, and serve as a means of emergency escape. On one turn, Bucephalus can appear in the material plane, and on the next he can transport Strahd and two other allies back into the ethereal plane and away from the characters. He can also bring along up to three allies—such as vampire spawn—to keep characters busy during the escape.
Within Barovia, Strahd’s spellcasting ability is surpassed only Baba Lysaga and Madam Eva. As written, his arsenal of prepared spells offers an array of offensive and utilitarian options, ranging from comprehend languages to the ever-powerful fireball.
While the uses of the offensives spells are quite obvious, it’s not always clear what use Strahd might have for his other prepared spells during the final battle.
Comprehend languages, a 1st level spell, would be used in the event that characters attempt to talk amongst themselves in Strahd’s presence using a language that he does not understand. In that even, Strahd would do his best to cast he spell without being noticed, so as to listen in to the conversation.
Detect thoughts, a 2nd level spell, would be used as a method of intimidation or demoralization. When he first meets the party, for example, Strahd may cast this spell on a character or an NPC companion. Should he glean their thoughts, he can make those thoughts known to everyone present—and inject falsehoods of his own devising to create a rift within the party.
Nondetection, a 3rd level spell, would be used to disguise one or more of Strahd’s allies while they are in the presence of the characters. For example, he may cast it on a vampire spawn and then have them play the part of a captive servant in order to gain the party’s pity and trust.
Help, I’m winning!
If you run Strahd to his fullest and moth ruthless capabilities, it’s extremely likely that your party will find themselves knocking on death’s door. Their hit points will be low, their spell slots and potions expended, and their hopes dashed. At that point, you must make a decision: either continue on and kill them all to end the game, or give them an opening to gain the upper hand.
Either of those options are valid. Many wonderful Curse of Strahd campaigns end in the death of the characters at Strahd’s hands.
If you wish to give your party a chance to regain the upper hand, however, all you need to do is let Strahd’s ego make decisions for him. With the battle all but won, Strahd becomes cocky and sure of himself. He begins to gloat, and taunt the characters. Rather than attack from the shadows, he wades into battle and begins to trade blows with the strongest party member. Instead of casting counterspell, he lets characters’ spells hit him in order to show that they cannot truly harm him.
All of that adds up to a lot of damage for Strahd, which may anger him and cause him to make further poor decisions that are not in his best interest. In the end, his hubris and ego will be his downfall.
If you have a larger-than-average party, or the characters are above the assumed level cap of the module, then you may wish to enhanced Strahd’s combat capabilities. The following suggestions will make Strahd a much deadlier enemy than what is found in the module, and they should be used only after careful consideration.
Updated Spell List
Strahd’s prepared spells in the module are well rounded, and would serve him well during normal day-to-day scenarios. If he is expecting a final confrontation with the characters, however, spells such as comprehend languages would likely be among the last that he would have prepared.
Instead of such a well-rounded spell list, tailor Strahd’s spells toward dealing with your specific party. Bear in mind that he has access to any wizard spell from 1st to 5th level.
The following spell list is one possibility of a “combat-ready” list that Strahd would prepare if he knew the characters were coming to Castle Ravenloft.
- Cantrips: infestation, mind sliver, ray of frost1st (4 slots): charm person, chromatic orb, shield
- 2nd (3 slots): detect thoughts, gust of wind, mirror image
- 3rd (3 slots): counterspell, fear, fireball
- 4th (3 slots): confusion, storm sphere
- 5th (1 slot): telekinesis, wall of force
Rather than fight unarmored, Strahd can don a suit of his own Strahd’s Animated Armor during the final battle. This not only increases his defenses, but also provides additional offensive capabilities.
After donning the animated armor, Strahd’s AC increases to 19. This is a step down from the 21 AC of the armor, due to the fact that there is now a being of flesh and blood inside the armor. Additionally, Strahd is subject to weak points in the armor (his head may be exposed, for example).
At the start of combat, roll for the armor’s initiative in addition to Strahd’s. Besides increasing Strahd’s defenses, the armor also acts on its own during combat, minus movement. On its turn, it uses its Shocking Bolt ability on the nearest character.
Damage dealt to Strahd is dealt simultaneously to the animated armor. Unlike Strahd, the armor does not regenerate hit points. If its hit points are reduced to zero, its magic fails and the armor becomes a normal suit of plate mail.
If your party size is larger than average—perhaps six members or more—it may be prudent to increase Strahd’s statistics. This may also be the case if your party has had additional adventures in Barovia, and exceed the expected level of 10 when they finally confront Strahd inside his lair.
The first consideration should be given to Strahd’s hit points. At 17d8 + 68, Strahd has a full hit point maximum of 204. Increasing his hit points to this maximum value would provide one or two extra rounds where Strahd can get to safety, if necessary.
Next, the hit point buffer granted to Strahd by the Heart of Sorrow can also be increased. Instead of 50 hit points, you may consider doubling it to 100 hit points. Granted, this does little for Strahd if the Heart of Sorrow has been destroyed.
If you feel like more hit points are required, you can increase his level. At level 20, for example, Strahd has an average hit point value of 170 and a maximum of 240. Additionally, if the levels added were in the Wizard class, Strahd would gain access to 6th level spells such as chain lightning and disintegrate.
Against a large party, the action economy is not in Strahd’s favor. If you wish to run a compelling and challenging battle, balancing the economy is imperative.
One option is to increase the number of allies that Strahd brings into battle. However, this can become unwieldy and hard to track, and may slow down the battle to the point where it becomes boring for your players. Instead of more allies then, you may increase the number of actions that Strahd may take in battle.
With more characters in the party, consider increasing the number of legendary actions that Strahd can perform. This will allow him to move greater distances or to counterattack with his unarmed strike or bite attacks. These additional actions, combined with the other tactics detailed in this chapter will help ensure that your players’ final battle against Strahd will be one to remember.