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D&D General Do I need an attitude adjustment? (They're gonna nova the BBEG)


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The adventure is Curse of Strahd, and I particularly hate seeing Strahd go down with a whimper. I do have a souped-up version of him that I was planning to use, but the fight would be more exciting if the PCs didn't have ALL of their tricks.

The reason he can't come to the PCs right this moment is because he's currently getting married. (My campaign is deviating pretty far from the book in some ways.) Not to Ireena--she's being played as a PC--but to Esmae Amarantha, who spent last year's campaign transforming herself into the likeness of Tatyana. He also has a hostage: Ireena's brother Ismark, who has already been bitten twice. My plan was for Strahd to spring a surprise during the ceremony: He'd bring out Ismark and threaten to have Esmae give him the third bite immediately before the congregation unless Ireena agreed to step forward and marry him as well. However, once the PCs got into the castle, they made a beeline for the crypts, which they spent a whole session systematically looting one by one. When Cyrus Belview came down to say the ceremony was starting, the PCs gleefully shoved him into the tomb reserved for Ireena, shut the door, and went back to looting.

Important note:, But the reason I left it vague is because I'm not so much looking for mechanical suggestions on how to make things more challenging ... yet. I have a few ideas about that, but I'm debating myself philosophically as to whether I even should try to make things more challenging, or whether thadt's just me trying to get in the way of the fun the group wants to have.
I don't know all too much about Curse of Strahd. But I've always thought that Ravenloft was his domain. Nothing happens in Ravenloft without his knowledge or consent. Of course, if players use an effective strategy you should just run with it. The players out-thought you and they deserve the victory. But at the same time, you have to think about the world at large.

It is one thing to reward a clever strategy... but it is another when players are simply abusing a loophole or game element that unfairly stacks the deck in their favor.

Would Strahd not find out that a bunch of PCs are running around HIS castle and HIS domain and resting and taking solace and succor at will without fear of repercussions?

Maybe not to pull a gotcha under the PCs but maybe there is a reason Strahd wants a well rested group of PCs to confront him. Maybe he has a use for them or a proposition that would be compelling to the PCs (that should point them to helping eliminate a potentially mutual threat and at the same time wear down the party such that they are not at full strength should he need to fight them).
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
You wanting to make it challenging isn’t getting in the way of their fun. It is making it more fun. You are doing what you can to stick the campaign landing. A final boss fight that is too easy is like a final season of a beloved television show that is too rushed - it can undermine the enjoyable memories of the whole campaign. The final fight doesn’t have to be the best of the campaign but it shouldn't be too easy. Your aim is to make it challenging but to make it so they have a good chance of winning. That’s bringing the fun.

It seems there is a time sensitive event that they are aware of - this should be enough to discourage waiting. make sure they know what will happen if they wait an extra 8 hours and turn up after the big bad has committed his act of evil - created an ally, damned a soul whatever. Then if they do wait have it happen.
 

Anyway, the main thing is that I feel like the players completely have the upper hand, and I'm not sure what is the best way to respond to that. How do I balance what's fun for my players with what's fun for me?

It's not that I want to kill PCs, but I'd like to make the climax of the campaign tense and memorable. I'd like the players to have to use abilities they don't usually have to pull out, and maybe be inventive sometimes.

Sorry for the long post. Any thoughts or advice will be carefully considered.
Put. Them. On. A. Doom. Clock.

Doom clocks drive the adventure, create tension and stop them exploiting the 5 minute adventuring day.

Which are literally your three biggest worries.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I'm not sure if this makes you feel any better, but most groups I've played with have had an easy time against Strahd. He was nowhere near as difficult as the jackal-headed demon thing in an earlier encounter.

Maybe he's tougher in the revised version?
 


Iry

Hero
Maybe he's tougher in the revised version?
Strahd has a variable difficulty. He has the tools to wipe the floor with almost any party around 10th level, but that doesn't mean an individual GM will play him that way, or that it will be a satisfying climax for the party. But you can split the difference. I mean a wedding ceremony is just asking Strahd to cast seeming and make everyone who fails the save look like Strahd. Including the players. :D
 


My group is eight players--way too big, I know.
Yes, it's funny, by all accounts Gygax used to play with a group that size, but I find six players the absolute maximum that is manageable.

Anyway, you boss absolutely needs to be be buffed to fight a party this size. I suggest looking at mythic bosses from Theros.
Their plan is to explore the place thoroughly and loot everything of value they can find, camping whenever they get low on resources (using Leomund's Tiny Hut). Then, when they feel like they've plundered all the good stuff, they'll take a long rest so they're fresh and then take on the big guy.
And you boss is just going to let them get away with this? He isn't going to spot what they are doing and set an ambush? One of the easiest ways to buff a boss is to make them smarter.
It's not that I want to kill PCs, but I'd like to make the climax of the campaign tense and memorable.
There is a fine line between not wanting to kill PCs and being afraid too. You have to be willing to let PCs die if the fight is going to be meaningful. Failure should be an option.

Killing a few off would help with your party size problem too.


As for CoS, the only reason the players even have a chance is Strahd holds back to toy with them. He can know everything the party does. He can pick them off one by one or split them up. He can sent an army of vampire spawn against them. He can easily have a minion dispel a LTH, or have a purple worm tunnel up underneath and swallow it hole.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The adventure is Curse of Strahd, and I particularly hate seeing Strahd go down with a whimper. I do have a souped-up version of him that I was planning to use, but the fight would be more exciting if the PCs didn't have ALL of their tricks.

The reason he can't come to the PCs right this moment is because he's currently getting married. (My campaign is deviating pretty far from the book in some ways.) Not to Ireena--she's being played as a PC--but to Esmae Amarantha, who spent last year's campaign transforming herself into the likeness of Tatyana. He also has a hostage: Ireena's brother Ismark, who has already been bitten twice. My plan was for Strahd to spring a surprise during the ceremony: He'd bring out Ismark and threaten to have Esmae give him the third bite immediately before the congregation unless Ireena agreed to step forward and marry him as well. However, once the PCs got into the castle, they made a beeline for the crypts, which they spent a whole session systematically looting one by one. When Cyrus Belview came down to say the ceremony was starting, the PCs gleefully shoved him into the tomb reserved for Ireena, shut the door, and went back to looting.

Important note:, But the reason I left it vague is because I'm not so much looking for mechanical suggestions on how to make things more challenging ... yet. I have a few ideas about that, but I'm debating myself philosophically as to whether I even should try to make things more challenging, or whether that's just me trying to get in the way of the fun the group wants to have.
Of course, you know your players better than any of us here do, so you’ll be the best judge of what they will find fun. But to me, this sounds like a party making their own fun in the absence of a challenge. Shoving the messenger into a coffin and looting the tombs, making plans to systematically strip the whole castle of anything valuable and use Tiny Hut to get a long rest in before roflstomping Strahd? These don’t read to me as the actions of an engaged group of players. It sounds like they’re probably bored, and far from ruining the fun, I think ramping up the challenge is probably exactly what they need.
 

Stalker0

Legend
To your question, yes you should absolutely feel empowered to alter the BBEG to account for your party, especially when you are running numbers that high (which the module does not account for).
 

BacchusNL

Explorer
The adventure is Curse of Strahd, and I particularly hate seeing Strahd go down with a whimper. I do have a souped-up version of him that I was planning to use, but the fight would be more exciting if the PCs didn't have ALL of their tricks.

The reason he can't come to the PCs right this moment is because he's currently getting married. (My campaign is deviating pretty far from the book in some ways.) Not to Ireena--she's being played as a PC--but to Esmae Amarantha, who spent last year's campaign transforming herself into the likeness of Tatyana. He also has a hostage: Ireena's brother Ismark, who has already been bitten twice. My plan was for Strahd to spring a surprise during the ceremony: He'd bring out Ismark and threaten to have Esmae give him the third bite immediately before the congregation unless Ireena agreed to step forward and marry him as well. However, once the PCs got into the castle, they made a beeline for the crypts, which they spent a whole session systematically looting one by one. When Cyrus Belview came down to say the ceremony was starting, the PCs gleefully shoved him into the tomb reserved for Ireena, shut the door, and went back to looting.

Important note:, But the reason I left it vague is because I'm not so much looking for mechanical suggestions on how to make things more challenging ... yet. I have a few ideas about that, but I'm debating myself philosophically as to whether I even should try to make things more challenging, or whether that's just me trying to get in the way of the fun the group wants to have.
You got 8 people in your group. Changing some stuff will definatly be needed by default, I think.
 

Despite it's popularity, it is my opinion that CoS is the hardest WotC adventure to run well, even for experienced DMs.

This is because it requires considerable buy-in from the players. They need to be willing to role play frightened vulnerable people, even when their character sheets tell them they are superheroes. All it takes is one player who just wants to test out their power gaming uberbuild and the adventure isn't going to work. Play something else instead.

One suggestion is to have all the players in this adventure play as sidekicks, thus reining in their superpowers. This is horror, if the players aren't running away from the monsters it isn't going right.
 
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However, once the PCs got into the castle, they made a beeline for the crypts, which they spent a whole session systematically looting one by one. When Cyrus Belview came down to say the ceremony was starting, the PCs gleefully shoved him into the tomb reserved for Ireena, shut the door, and went back to looting.
Strahd had no issues with this at all?

He's just... letting them ransack his castle, and murder his minions?

You even have a Doom clock set up man (the Wedding!). Let the PCs know that if the Wedding is completed, Strahd will complete his Apotheosis, and become some kind of murder-machine, and they'll be trapped in Barovia for good.

Once that's over and done with, have his minions attack them. Constantly. If they nova (and then rest) have a Vampire Spellcaster (Vampire Spawn with Mage spellcasting tacked on) plus Mooks turn up and Dispel the LTH, and hit them again.

Have them find out about (the sword, or the amulet of ravenkind, or the Heart). Steer them there with another Doom clock (find the artefact/ destroy the heart by time X or else bad thing Y happens). Hit them with repeat encounters as they go. Keep the pressure on them.

Increase the Heart's effects to grant Strahd advantage on his attacks, disadvantage on all attacks v him, Resistance to Radiant damage not caused by the Brilliant longsword, double the HP, and Max damage on all attacks. Make tackling him head on (without destroying the Heart) a suicide mission.

When the final showdown happens, have Strahd appear wearing his magical +2 Breastplate, Ring of Protection +1 (20), and Flaming longsword (deals Necrotic damage instead of Fire) and a plethora of Vampire mooks. Ensure you use his ability to walk through walls to its maximum effect. Change his spells (he is a wizard after all) to tailor to the PCs weakness (Int saves Im looking at you).

There is SO much you can do, that you arent man.
 

Al2O3

Explorer
So, the party either crashed the wedding or used the invitation to mostly do a no-show and loot the place instead? Also, they ignored the extra invite?

It sounds like the master of the house would have to postpone the ceremony and bring some of the other guests with him to stop that nonsense before the ceremony can continue. And putting the wedding on hold should really make the groom upset, so going full "alpha strike" before the introduction and explanation of how annoyed Stradh is might be in order.

Since the players are ignoring the BBEG it would seem that they might be very surprised by his appearance. So with a few minions (other guests), a surprise round, lair actions, max hit points and whatever else you give him there should be an initial "oh naughty word" moment.

Another, completely different, option that might be too late is to make the completion of the ceremony the "fail condition" of the adventure. If the ceremony finishes, then something very bad happens. This should have been foreshadowed before, so it might be too late. However, maybe Stradh gets more powerful by the ceremony? More levels or equivalent, better ability to withstand sunlight, a host of minions...
 

TheSword

Legend
I would consider splitting the group in two. Have a large pit open up at the entrance down to the dungeons/tombs with those that pass saves staying up and those failing falling down. Don’t tell them the DC just have them make the rolls then set the DC to what ever splits the party in half. Then have the pit door close and seal. It has a magic seal and appears to be solid rock. Then have the upper group attacked attacked by entrance gargoyles.

Have Strahd stalk them through the castle in their smaller groups. Two or three encounters each with horrors in the castle - that will need significantly beefing up, before reuniting them to finally face Strahd. Have the upper group tackle the castle and the Tower / Heart. Have the lower group search for the coffin. Then have them meet in the Cathedrale for the finale.

Ironically the groups size and confidence will work against them.

Warn them that they feel a sense of oppression and waking nightmares as soon as they cross the castle threshold. Warn them that this castle doesn’t seem like a place of rest. If they try and rest their sleep is troubled by nightmares. They regain spells and HP but gain a level of exhaustion that can’t be recovered while inside the castle.

The upper group could leave and rest but then they leave the lower group trapped in the castle.

It sounds like the finale will be a terrible anticlimax for you if you don’t do something drastic. Try and enjoy it!!!

[Edit: Oh shoot, just seen they’ve already invaded the castle. In that case beef everyone by 50% and go large. Throw in any crazy creatures from the CR 15-20 category and have the castle itself react to their affrontary. If you get a chance to split them by a falling wall that seals to solid stone - same saves as before then do it.)
 
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TheSword

Legend
Important note:, But the reason I left it vague is because I'm not so much looking for mechanical suggestions on how to make things more challenging ... yet. I have a few ideas about that, but I'm debating myself philosophically as to whether I even should try to make things more challenging, or whether that's just me trying to get in the way of the fun the group wants to have.
Yes you should try. On at least one encounter.

It’s not a problem if they’ve had a romp, unless it gets you down. I would feel exactly the same. In fact I did when DMing Baldurs Gate : Descent.
 


nevin

Adventurer
Ahh. That's something you'll have to work through. I almost blew up a campaign once. The encounters I'd been running were pretty rough and the players had suffered through a lot and they got to one of the Big moments and they through great planning and some really lucky die rolls blew through all stuff that was supposed to deplete thier resources, and I overeacted and threw a monster at them that they could nothing about. I was so tired of "Losing" that I almost wiped my party. Luckily I realized what I was doing and the monster got a big down grade and they got thier well earned victory. As a DM it sometimes feels like you failed if it was easy. But the question is, was it easy because it wasnt' hard, or did they work together and plan really well? If it' s the latter, then sometimes they should get to feel like heroes and just blow through a BBEG or two.
 

aco175

Legend
I just ran the final encounter with Olhydra from PotA and it was tough, but not deadly like I wanted. I only had 4 PCs as well, so having 8 makes the action economy twice as hard.

You should think about creating other things going on that use the PCs actions. Maybe a portal is open and allows 4 minions in each round that can be closed using the mage or thief turns. Maybe prisoners are being killed or sacrificed to give the BBEG hit points. Someone needs to stop that. A cool phasing power that negates hits each turn sucks for the PCs unless there is a way to turn it off. There may be a lot going on but having 8 PCs means that some can divert to the other problems before ganging up on the BBEG in the end.
 

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