Today I ran my last session of Curse Of Strahd, running my players through their last few rooms in Castle Ravenloft and in an epic confrontation with Count Strahd himself. And, it was amazing! I would like to tell you how I made the encounter as epic and difficult as I and the players expected.
A common complaint that I heard about Curse of Strahd is that the final encounter with Strahd was too easy. At level 9 or 10, a party of adventurers have vast resources to their disposal. And especially with potent magic items like the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and the Icon of Ravenloft, there is the danger of even Strahd himself being trivialized immediately. So, how did I work with this?
Stringing together multiple scenes with different flavours in the session, I tried to give it the session a proper season finale feeling. Ratchetting up the tension by giving the players both hardships to overcome and boons that could be taken away. And add in a moment where they can breath and reflect, and suddenly the stakes became much higher.
⚔️ Random encounters
First, I softened my players up. Before reaching Strahd, they had several semi-random encounters with a dual purpose. The party had to expend valuable spell slots and healing, but they also got some allies in return.
Allies are double-edged blade, especially in the endgame. While they’re useful and can aid the player characters in combat, they’re also more easily killed than PCs. If your players have developed bonds with their allies, the threat of losing them will certainly spice up any boss battle.
🐲 Mini boss battle
Second, I used the Heart of Sorrow as a mini boss battle. The Heart was protected with its usual defenses; flying halberds and vampire spawns. However, it was also protected by a Fierstjerren (an excellent monster from Kobold Press’ Creature Codex), which I beefed up with some additional powers. And because players will be players, they also antagonised the Barovian Witches nearby. That’s already has the makings of a boss battle and they haven’t even met Strahd yet!
🛏 Moment of respite
After the Heart of Sorrow was destroyed, the players managed to grab a short rest. This gave them the chance to heal and regain some of their powers. And more importantly, it gave them the chance to reflect upon their final battle and their journey up until now. Nothing like PC’s discussing what they’ll do after they have defeated the Big Bad, not knowing if they’ll survive. 😈
🧛🏻♂️ The Final Battle; stage one!
Finally, the final battle. Having expended some resources, the party were still a magnificent beast and more than a match for Strahd as written in the book. Instead, I used a beefed up version by dave2008 (ENWorld thread) and gave him two stages.
The first stage was Strahd’s regular battle. The party fought him fair and square, and both dealt massive amounts of damage to each other. However, at the end of the battle, the party was victorious! Even if one of their allies had to be sacrificed for it. 💀
🚗 The chase scene
Strahd fled to his coffin, The party knew they had little time, before he might be resurrected, racking the tension higher and higher. The castle by now was overrun by Strahd’s minions, trying to hinder the party. However, they managed to plow through them, coming across allies from all of their their journeys in Barovia, turning the entire castle in an ongoing battlegrounds with familiar faces in the balance.
🏁 The Final Battle; stage two!
Strahd was being resurrected by a former ally, turned vampire. They held up the party, mortified by their actions, but unable to ignore Strahd’s orders. While the party put them down with pain in their hearts, Strahd resurrected, but weakened. Playing unfair, he finished off by throwing whatever last high-damage spells he had left, knocking half of the party unconscious.
Because of the great cost and their expended resources, dealing the final blow to Strahd in his tomb felt all the more satisfying. Strahd was finally defeated.
By stringing together different types of scenes, the players could have a more interesting battle against Strahd. They expended their obvious resources beforehand, forcing them to be resourceful in their final battle. And by reuniting them with their allies, they had to take care to avoid losing them as well. And in the end, a two-stage approach to killing Strahd made for a great last-ditch effort climax.
All in all, we had an amazing and satisfying conclusion to Curse of Strahd!