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Starting Tyranids and Nov 2020 Tyranids Army Analysis

Hello Internet! Writing about Tyranids over the last few months has been very interesting as it has given me the opportunity to get in meaningful conversations with a much wider group of Tyranids players. I really enjoy the different perspectives and takes on the army I have now been exposed to.

From this dialogue there are two very common questions that I find being asked of me and others. First, how do I start a Tyranids army? Second, what do you think of unit X? Therefore I have decided to write up my thoughts on the first question and also give a broad army overview, and hopefully in the future I can just link to this article as a response.

Disclaimers: Please keep in mind several disclaimers. First, all of this information can and almost certainly will change as soon as there is a new codex for Tyranids in 9th. Second, I am not and do not claim to be the best Tyranid player out there. This article is just one person's analysis. Third, I like to only base my analysis and thoughts on experience on the tabletop. I think there are already a lot of people on the internet that engage in theoryhammer and can tell you how they think something will work. I want to ground all of my takes on the value of a unit only on what I have learned from playing with them in real games. A perfect example of this is that on paper both a lictor and mawloc are not very good, but I have found that in practice they are key units for me.

Starting Tyranids:

I do like the latest GW trend to start a player off with a 500pt/25 PL force. This is a good introduction to the army. I have two recommendations for a starting 500 point force depending on what kind of player you are. My first recommendation will be for a player that is brand new to 40k and wants to learn the hobby with Tyranids. My second recommendation is for a player that is already familiar with 40k with other armies, and wants to branch out to Tyranids as a new army for their collection. In both cases I recommend buying both the codex and psychic awakening: blood of baal, as the two books combined are what contains all of our army specific rules.

New to 40K Starting Tyranids:
If you are brand new to 40k first I would say welcome! 40k is a deep and rewarding game with many different aspects that can enterain you for years to come. Starting out with Tyranids I would buy two boxes of Tyranid Warriors and two boxes of Venomthropes/Zoanthropes. The Tyranid warriors can be built a variety of ways, but a really good starting loadout is with deathspitters and with lashwhips and boneswords. The six should be built the same, and can be run as a unit of 6 or two units of 3. My suggested list below uses a single unit of 6 to maximize on the free adaptive physiology buff I'm giving them from blood of baal. If that sounds greek to you, don't worry, you can start slow, but use the below list as a reference when you get started.

The Venomthrope box actually can build 3 different models. With it you can build venomthropes, a neurothrope and zoanthropes. A neurothrope is a very good starting HQ for Tyranids that is cheap and tough, you will want to build one of your 6 models from these kits as a neurothrope (it has a little bone spike at the top of its spine sticking over the head). You will want to build the other 5 models as zoanthropes, and take them in one unit of 5.
500 pts, 23 PL
Neurothrope, warlord, resonance barb, psychic scream
6x Tyranid Warriors, deathspitter, lash whip + bonesword (adaptive physiology enhanced resistance)
5x Zoanthrope, catalyst

This army is a good starting point for brand new players for several reasons. First, you are only dealing with 3 units on the board, so you can focus on how each one works rather than being overwhelmed trying to control a lot of units at once. Second, each unit is about as tough as you can get for the Tryanid army, and when starting out it is easier to learn using models that don't die as fast I have found. Third, this list will teach you all the phases of the game. The Tyranid warriors can both shoot ok and fight ok, letting you learn the shooting, charge and combat phases. The neurothrope and zoanthropes also cast psychic powers, getting you a good introduction to the psychic phase. Finally, every unit in this army is a synapse creature. Synapse is a more complicated rule for the Tyranid army that adds an extra layer of complexity for a new player. By taking this force you don't have to worry about synapse which makes the games easier to play, and you also are immune to morale!

The other good thing about this starting force is that it can benefit in some way from every hive fleet except Hydra. This will let you experiment with the different hive fleets with a foundational force while you try and learn the rules and figure out what playstyle and hive fleet fits you as a player.

Branching out to start a Tyranids Army as a second army:
My advice is different for someont that is already very familiar with the current mechanics of 9th edition. For players that have already been playing with a different army but want to start a new Tyranid army, you can look at a starting force that is made up of more specialized units that are a little harder to play well with.

If you are already familiar with the game I would recommend buying two boxes of venomthropes/zoanthropes, a box of termagants and an exocrine. For the venomthropes build them the same way, with one as a neurothrope and 5 as zoanthropes (but you will only use 4 at 500 points). Build the termagants with fleshborers. From this you can build the following list:
495 pts, 25 PL
Neurothrope, resonance barb, psychic scream
10x Termagant, fleshborer
4x Zoanthropes, catalyst
Exocrine, adaptive physiology dermic symbiosis

This list is 4 units with 3 that are all fairly specialized, and this force will have to work together as a team to win. The termagants and exocrine have to worry about synapse, and so you will have to pay attention to your positioning. The termagants are mostly there as a screen and possibly to grab an objective, but will want to stay close to the brain bugs to not run if they take casualties. The exocrine with dermic symbiosis is about as tough as you can make a monster at this points level, with both a 5++ invuln and counting as double wounds for bracketing. The exocrine is very good against elite infantry, which is common at all point levels right now and the exocrine is also a great centerpiece monster for your starting force.

This list has a dedicated psychic unit, a dedicated screening unit and a dedicated shooting unit, and plays to the current strengths of the Tyranid codex. It is more complicated to play with, especially the exocrine where you will have to make decisions about positioning, movement and deepstrike as it has more advanced rules for how its shooting works. However, in skilled hands I think this is a very strong list for the combat patrol level of the game.

You will not be using the 5th zoanthrope you own at the combat patrol level, but your expansion to 1000 pts is already started!

Start Collecting:

The next question I usually get is what do I think about the Start Collecting box for Tyranids. First off it is a cheaper way to get minatures, so from that perspective it is probably the most cost effective way to start. The box comes with a broodlord (HQ), 8 genestealers (troops) and 1 trygon/mawloc (heavy). I want to break down my analysis of this box into two parts, the hobby side and the game side.

On the hobby side of this box I really like the model for the broodlord and the trygon. I specifically think trygons/mawlocs are fun to paint, and there is plenty of interesting stuff you can do to the base of a giant dune worm. I like the patriarch model slightly better than the broodlord, but the broodlord still has its place. I am not a fan, however, of the genestealers. I've been playing Tyranids for 30 years, and I don't think this model has aged well. You will have to deal with mould lines and the miniature itself is really too large and too wide for the base it comes with (25mm). This is annoying in game, but even just in a display case you will find that if your Tyranids shelf gets bumped you are likely to have a whole bunch of your genestealers tip over.

On the game side I think this box is a terrible way to start. The units in this box are very fragile glass cannons that don't even really pack much punch. If you are brand new to 40k and this box is how you try and learn I suspect you will lose most of your early games, maybe without doing much. Using this box on the table will unfortunately get you a very warped view of what Tyranids are like.

Let's first talk about the trygon/mawloc. I really like mawlocs, but both data sheets for this model derive a lot of their power from using deepstrike well. This is not something that a new player normally is very skilled with. The Trygon can hit hard, but both versions degrade very fast. Also, at only T6 and without an invuln save this big looking beast is not very tough and will die quickly. A mawloc will on average at top profile do less damage than a single khorne beserker with a chainaxe and chainsword, and it gets even worse when it degrades. So you have a 125 pt model that has about 20 pts of offense, and is pretty fragile. Now, the ability to show up anywhere is powerful in large games to control score, but just starting out for a new player? Trygons and mawlocs are esoteric game pieces that are difficult to use well for players with lots of experience. They are an awful introduction to Tyranids for a brand new player.

And how about those genestealers? In a unit of 8 they won't be vulnerable to blast weapons, however genestealers are very fragile for their points cost. If you are a new player and you go second, you are likely to lose all of your genestealers before you even move. Or you could try placing them underground with the trygon, but then you are counting on making a 9" charge out of deepstrike, which also almost always fails. And if you are playing against a new codex (marines or necrons) you will quickly discover that your genestealer just doesn't put out enough damage against the new statlines. Marines will easily eat your charge even if you get the first turn and then blow you off the table.

Finally the broodlord. The broodlord is probably the strongest piece out of this box, but is still a terrible HQ for a starting player. A broodlord can cast and puts out an average amount of damage in melee for an HQ. It can also advance and charge so it is fast and it can buff the genestealers. However, in real games the broodlord is typically a counter-attack piece used to finish off weakend units or models. The reason for this is that the broodlord is also very fragile, and will usually die if hit first by enemy characters or melee units. It takes experience to understand how to pick the best spot for a broodlord to commit and charge. Throwing it blindly at an enemy, like many starting players try to do, will typically end in failure.

So the box comes with a difficult to use, fragile monster with an average to poor combat profile, fragile, overpriced troops and a counter-attack HQ without much to act as a durable screen for it to shine. You MIGHT win a game using this box just starting out in the game of 40k, but you probably either got lucky or just have a natural talent at grasping the game. For the average new player this force will make them think that Tyranids are terrible as it is a lot of fragile, expensive, difficult to use pieces thrown together as the "starter" army. I'm sorry to all of you that were introduced to the faction by trying to play with this box. The game of 40k and the Tyranid faction is much better than you think if this was your introduction to the game.

November 2020 Tyranids Army Analysis:

So I have managed to get a good number of games in against the new marine codex, and even several against the new necrons. With the experience of playing our 8th codex against the new books I thought it might be useful to put down what I saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the Tyranids faction at this point in time.

First off, I will say that Tyranids is a medium to high difficulty army to play. The easiest play style (hordes of gants) is still not THAT easy and takes some practice to get used to. The more complicated builds are around the same difficulty to use as grey knights or genestealer cults, two armies I consider to be some of the hardest to play well. If you are looking for an easy point and click faction Tyranids are not there yet.

Psychic Phase and Mortal Wounds: The Tyranids greatest strength is in the sheer volume of mortal wounds they can inflict. In my opinion Tyranids are the strongest psychic army in the game, and at the very least they do the most amount of damage in the psychic phase. The first reason for this is that every army now has to deal with the escalating cost of smite, where it goes off on a 5, then a 6, then a 7 and so on for each time it is cast in the psychic phase. Previously grey knights and thousand sons got around this so could put out a lot of smites. However, with everyone on the same playing field, even with bonuses to cast and rerolls you are probably only looking at getting off 3-5 smites per psychic phase.

Most armies only deal d3 damage with a smite, or d6 on a super smite. Tyranids can do more damage per smite with zoanthropes, that can do either 2d3 or 3+d3 damage for a smite, and still benefit from super smites. If you only get off 3 smites in a phase another army might only deal 3d3 mortal wounds, where as Tyranids might have just dealt 9+d3 mortal wounds for the same dice rolls. Zoanthropes also have 24" range on their smites, just like thousand sons, but aren't shackled by only doing 1 damage smites.

That is only the begining, however. Tyranids have very few synergies in the codex where HQs meaningfully buff units (outside of the synapse rule). But their strongest synergy is in the psychic phase. Neurothropes give a 6" aura of rerolling 1s in the psychic phase, which effects both them and zoanthropes. Rerolling 1s is very valuable as it almost halves the number of perils you will suffer, as well as being very valuable for low casting cost powers. Many armies don't get access to this ability at all, or it is locked behind a valuable warlord trait. But for Tyranids this is just a power you get with one of your HQ choices. In addition you can also heal your units when you kill with smite.

On top of this you have psychic scream, which is a low casting value (5) targetted d3 you can add in to the mix. Tyranids are also very strong at denying enemy psychers. The Shadow in the Warp rule gives -1 to enemy psychers at 18", 6" more than the similar marine power for psychic hoods. Also, Tyranids have a strat which can force an enemy to only roll 1d6 to cast a power, which for 1cp is stronger than many of the 4+ to deny strats that are out there.

So from a casting perspective you do more damage per smite, get bonuses to casting, can heal from casting, and have strong abilities to stop enemy psychers. This makes this one of if not the best psychic army you can have. The powers that Tyranids have access to are also almost all useful, with low to average casting values. The one downside of all of this is that your psychers are expensive, and while you are better at casting than any other army you pay for the privilege. A psychic heavy tyranid army doesn't have a lot of points left over for much else.

Mortal wounds from casting are great, but for Tyranids that is also just the tip of the iceberg. The army has many, many ways to also inflict mortal wounds on the enemy. Both Mawlocs and Malceptors can do mortal wounds to all units around them. We also have access to many kinds of spore mines that do mortal wounds, often to the nearest enemy unit (with NO range restriction) meaning that if a group of mines overkills what hits them you might start wiping out enemies half way across the board. Not only do spore mines add to the mortal wounds, but we have units which themselves also spawn more spore mines. And we have units that can do mortal wounds when they make the charge.

For a psychic heavy army you might think something like a Culexus assassin would be good against us, but that has not been my experience at all due to our huge array of mortal wound abilities. The last time I faced a cullexes I brought a mawloc up in it's face knocking it down to 1 wound, and then shot biovores at it, that thankfully due to the assassin's powers could only hit on a 6, so constantly missed, allowing me to drop a ton of mines all around the assassin. The thing was dead in one turn to mortal wounds and never had a chance to disrupt my psychers.

Our strong mortal wound output makes Tyranids especially good against elite armies like Custodes or Harlequins, which really cannot afford to take the losses our mortal wounds can dish out. On the flip side, if you build too heavily into dealing mortal wounds with psychers and units in a Tyranids army you might find yourself struggling against hordes. Speaking of hordes....

Board Control: Tyranids are one of only a few armies that can realistically field several hundred models in an army. They come cheap per wound (termagants or rippers) and can be both fearless as well as having a number of defensive buffs on them, including invuln saves, feel no pains and minuses to hit. Tyranids are one of the very best, if not the best army at covering the board.

Playing a heavy board control army is all about the movement phase and understanding how to force your opponent into specific target priorities. I will also say right up front that this playstyle is not for everyone, as it can be stressful to paint hundreds of the same model and then also it takes a lot of practice to learn how to move that many models quickly. Also, compared to other horde armies I have seen (orcs, nurgling spam) Tyranid hordes don't present much of a combat threat to the opponent. It is all about how long it takes them to die.

Blast weapons are said to be a counter to hordes, but where I'm playing everyone is playing elites and taking anti-elite weapons. Let me tell you, if you have 200 gants you don't really care how many eradicators your opponent brought , but you are hoping they spent a lot of points on them. While there are several good horde armies in the game, Tyranids do the "cover the board for scoring and die slowly" with the best of them.

Movement: Tyranids are an above average movement army. Strats like metabolic overdrive are key to making the army work. Several key units have the ability to advance and charge, and the reason why hive fleet Kraken and the Swarm Lord are popular is because they bring even more movement buffs. On top of this Tyranids have a lot of units that can natively deepstrike, letting you pop up where you are needed in place of raw speed.

All that being said, deep strike is fairly common in some armies. There are some armies out there that I feel still just simply move faster than us (knife ears in general but harlequins specifically). And I've gone against all bike and speeder white scars armies that can put our speed to shame. Still, within the broader scheme of the game we are faster than a lot of armies and generally will have speed as an advantage over an opponent.

Speed is one of the most important facets of 9th edition, as the scoring system rewards board position more than killing. A fast army will often be able to get the board position to win on points regardless of how many units are dying. However, using movement options well takes practice, and is one of the reasons why I think Tyranids are a high skill army to use. Both GSC and Grey Knights and Harlequins, other high skill armies, also rely heavily on movement abilities to be potent.

Shooting: Tyranids are an average shooting army. Shooting has always been a part of the Tyranid identity, and that is still true. From the very start with the weird original pinhead warriors with guns and the hive tyrant that came with a venom cannon and lashwhip/bonesword, to the 4th edition where dakka 'fexes ruled the top tables, to now when exocrines and hive guard can do work, Tyranids have always had access to decent shooting options.

Tyranids right now are in an interesting spot. One unit of hive guard may be close to the most efficient 300 points of shooting in the game, with the ability to shoot twice with strat, shoot ignoring line of sight, and with enough strength, ap (and ignores cover) and damage to threaten basically any profile in the game. The problem with hive guard is that one unit can only do so much, and they get so much value from the strat and psychic buffs that a second or third unit diminish in returns drastically. They can do some damage to tanks but are best against elites.

Similarly the Exocrine is a custom built gun bug designed to take out light vehicles and elite infantry. It is not strong against hordes, and it is not strong against T8 vehicles and knights. But the game right now is filled with people taking lots of elite infantry, so the exocrine benefits from being built to go against the units that are the most common in the current meta. Exocrines were considered bad just two years ago when knights ruled the tournament scene, because exocrines are terrible against knights. But the meta has swung and now the exocrine is money. I worry their current value is temporary when the meta shifts again, though.

The last pretty good gun the tyranids have access to is the venom cannon/heavy venom cannon. These guns are low shot, but doing a flat 3 damage also makes them very good against elite infantry. In addition, I have not played with them yet, but it looks like some of the new forgeworld options also have very strong anti-elite firepower.

So that's the strong part. Here are the weaknesses. Tyranids have very poor pure anti-tank options. Heavy venom cannons and hive guard either don't have the strength or volume of shots to really chew through a lot of high toughness wounds fast enough. The rupture cannon Tfex is terrible. Tyranids also struggle with volume of shots against pure hordes.... like Tyranids can field. You will be hard pressed with a Tyranid army to shoot your way through an enemy Tyranid horde fast enough (although honarable mention to the fleshborer hive Tfex that no one takes, if hordes become the meta you might take three of them).

Also, while Tyranids bring good anti-elite shooting, they are just not going to win a shootout against one of the dedicated shooting armies. Don't go bringing your gun bugs against Tau and think you are winning those trades. You don't have good anti-tank options, you don't have good anti-horde options. And your anti-elite options mostly work when fed cp by strats, so you don't want to lean too heavily into that either. Still, the anti-elite shooting Tyranids can bring is effective at a specific role, and I think is often going to show up in a good Tyranid list at this point.

Melee: Tyranids are one of the worst hand to hand armies in the game. In my experience they are only better than tau, gaurd and admech units in hand to hand. I base this in part on being handily beaten in hand to hand by a thousand sons army, also not an army that is good in hand to hand. I'm guessing this may be a controversial take, so let me try and explain further.

First off, if you take dedicated Tyranid hand to hand troops, and get them into an opponent gunline like you imagine in the fluff, they can still do quite well. But this is a mismatch because you are comparing dedicated hand to hand troops against dedicated shooting troops. Now, given several of our speed options this will still happen in some matches and it is glorious when you get to do it. However, it is not the proper judge of an army's ability in an area if you consider the value only in mismatches.

Where Tyranids are terrible is in their DEDICATED hand to hand units against the DEDICATED hand to hand units of another army. And this is especially bad with the new codexes. I charged a full unit of 20 genestealers into a unit of 10 assault terminators and only killed 3, and then had my entire unit wiped in return. That is, I used the resources to make the charge, I struck first and only killed 120 points of enemy models, then losing 300 points of my hand to hand models in return.

An increase in wounds and armor saves has made our combat statlines laughably bad. If you are just looking at killing power, a swarmlord and 40 genestealers at 870 points will basically never kill 20 assault terminators at 860 points, even if you make every charge. Heaven forbid if they ever charge you. Now, 40 genestealers and swarmy could still win in a game, by using the hive commander ability to run the genestealers AWAY from the terminators to use obsec to grab objectives, but if you are playing that way you are probably better spending your points on hormagaunts instead of genestealers.

Comparing some stat lines can help to show the problem. Let's compare a Hive Tyrant with scything talons and a venom cannon at 190 points to an armiger warglaive at 155 points. They are both t7 with 12 wounds and a 3+ save. They both can get a 4++ invuln against shooting. They both degrade in combat prowess. The thermal spear is lower str but higher ap and damage than the venom cannon, both are d3 shots. Both get 4 base attacks in hand to hand, dealing a flat 3 damage. However, the Hive Tyrant only hits at strength 6, where as the wairglaive can get double attacks up to 8 to hit at s6, or gets it's 4 attacks at strength 12. So the warglaive is about the same or slightly better at shooting, and hits harder in hand to hand, is faster AND is 40 points cheaper. Now, yes, the hive tyrant can cast two psychic powers, but that is a lot of points to pay for that ability. AND warglaives aren't even really considered good, they are just much better at being a hive tyrant than a hive tyrant is.

Or how about a flying hive tyrant against a thousand sons demon prince with wings. Both cast two powers. Both get a 4++ invuln base (although the demon prince has easy access to a 3++). The hive tyrant is 50 points more expensive, but is 4 attacks compared to 8 for the demon prince (with hateful assault) and the demon prince also hits at s7 instead of s6, doesn't degrade and can take advantage of look out sir. I had one TS demon prince claw it's way through three hive tyrants in a game recently.... and the prince was cheaper than each monster it killed! The demon prince is an equal or better caster, is significantly better in hand to hand and is cheaper. To be fair, the hive tyrant can take a big massive gun that the prince doesn't get.... but is that worth 50 points?

The new books have really upped the wound count. Units also lots of times have a higher toughness. The new storm shield rules means there are a lot of units with effective 1+ armor saves. The ap1 and 1 damage of a s4 genestealer just is not good against the new statlines, whether that is lychguard, terminators, gravis, etc. Opponents can be getting 2+ saves against your attacks and you don't have access to bonuses to wound or rerolling wounds with your "combat" troops. Genestealers struggle to kill the generalist statlines of the new books, and are completely destroyed in hand to hand against the beatsticks.

In general, Tyranid hand to hand units have very low strength for dedicated hand to hand units and are also easy to kill for their points cost. If you are a monster usually add to that list of negatives low weapon skill and a low number of attacks. They either need drastic points reductions to perform their role against the new books or new statlines.

I took an army of hive tyrants, carnifex and genestealers against thousand sons and was easily beaten in hand to hand by scarab occult terminators and demon princes.... and they don't even have the buffed statlines yet. I've taken hand to hand tyranid armies against white scars, necrons and blood angels and the games were laughably onesided against me.

My personal theory is that the reason why Tyranids are always ranked low in power rankings is because when people think of Tyranids they think of our hand to hand units, which are currently average to terrible, and cannot win in a fight against the hand to hand units of other books. Playing melee 'nids right now is a losing battle against almost every army with what you get for your points in my experience. And even necrons will pretty handily beat you in hand to hand with their new rules and statlines.

If you want to play a Tyranids army and mostly want to hit things, play GSC. Seriously. Or at least ally them in. But Tyranid forces are in my experience in 9th, and especially against the two new codexes, not good in hand to hand. This is important because more and more armies are including a strong hand to hand contingent in their army.

Allies: Speaking of GSC, I consider allies to be another strength of the Tyranid army. The two biggest weakness of the Tyranid army is ranged anti-tank and hand to hand ability. Two areas that GSC can cover well is ranged anti-tank and hard hitting hand to hand troops! Game on.

Say you live in a world where it is full of T4, 2W, 3+ save units. Then let's say you could take a unit that hit at s8, ap 4 and flat 2 damage. Sounds perfect, right? Now what if that unit could also get buffs to charges, hit rolls and wound rolls.... things that Tyranids struggle to get access to. Well that DOES exist, in the happy acolyte with rocksaw.

GSC has some really powerful abilities. A unit of naked acolytes can deep strike natively, perform actions and is cheaper than a lictor. So if you don't like lictors, I would encourage you to take min squads of acolytes to perform your scoring.

If what you feel you are lacking is anti-tank, ridge runners and neophytes and a whole host of units can take a heavy mining laser to deal out some pain.

The biggest problem with GSC is they can be quite fragile and rely on their movement tricks a lot. They also struggle to bring ranged anti-elite firepower. But they are fantastic in combination with Tyranids, who can bring toughness either with their hordes or with their psychers, but who lack the heavy hitting punch on their own. Also Tyranids excel at the kind of shooting GSC struggles at, anti-elite firepower.

So Why Play Tyranids?: I mean other than they look awesome. Tyranids are a very strong psychic army that can excel at board presence, movement tricks and are backed up by competent but not overwhelming shooting phase. Their main weaknesses are in hand to hand and ranged anti-tank, both of which they can cover with access to their only ally in GSC. They are a moderate to high skill army, but once you master them they can be one of the toughest armies in the game to beat. For the Hive Mind!

Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think!

Appendix:
Links to my previous battle reports and article, if so inclined.
Initial 9th Edition and Tyranids Analysis:
https://www.reddit.com/WarhammerCompetitive/comments/ike5jx/9th_edition_and_tyranids_analysis/
Tyranids vs Custodes:
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/isi6as/tyranids_vs_custodes_9th_edition_battle_report/
Tyranids vs Iron Hands:
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/ixfhri/tyranids_vs_iron_hands_9th_edition_battle_report/
Tyranids vs Knights and Admech:
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/iztbu8/tyranids_vs_knights_and_admech_9th_edition_battle/
Tyranids vs Daemons and Death Guard:
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/j2qjxp/tyranids_vs_daemons_and_death_guard_9th_edition/
Tyranids vs White Scars:
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/jbdgkx/tyranids_vs_new_codex_white_scars_9th_edition/

Tyranids go to an RTT:
https://www.reddit.com/WarhammerCompetitive/comments/jnqwsx/tyranids_go_to_a_rtt_3_written_battle_reports/
RTT Round 1 vs Custodes:
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/jnqcma/rtt_round_1_battle_report_tyranids_vs_custodes/
RTT Round 2 vs Creations of Bile
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/jnqkhs/rtt_round_2_battle_report_tyranids_vs_creations/
RTT Round 3 vs Black Legion
https://www.reddit.com/Tyranids/comments/jnqt4h/rtt_round_3_battle_report_tyranids_vs_black/
submitted by Stormcoil to Tyranids

6

Fleshing Out Curse of Strahd: Castle Ravenloft III - Fighting Strahd

Fleshing Out Curse of Strahd: Castle Ravenloft III - Fighting Strahd
Alright everyone. This is it. This is the fight that the entire campaign has led up to from the moment you and your players read the title. Sure, there might be a bit of clean-up or epilogue once Strahd has been vanquished, but that's nothing compared to this fight. Let's. Do. THIS.
**** Master Table of Contents **** - Click here for links to every post in the series
Prepping the Adventure
Death House
The Village of Barovia
Tser Pool, Vistani, and Tarroka
Old Bonegrinder
Vallaki
The Fanes of Barovia
The Winery
Yester Hill
Van Richten's Tower (and Ezmerelda)
Kresk
The Abbey of St. Markovia
Argynvostholt
Berez
Running Werewolves and Lycanthropes
The Amber Temple
Castle Ravenloft I
- Castle Ravenloft II - NPCs

Prepping your Players

Before really getting into this post, I want to tell you guys what I told my players: This fight will be difficult. This isn't another standard enemy or minor boss. This is Strahd von bloody Zarovich.
Before the ending sessions with the Strahd fight, I sat down with my players and had a talk with them. I told them that not only would this fight be tough, there was a real chance that they would fail and die at the end of this campaign. It's one thing to have a PC die and then bring in another in the middle of the campaign. It's another to do so in the final fight. Strahd is a powerful villain and there's a reason he's been in power for so long...
BUT. I also made sure to tell them that I was rooting for them. Even though I have to play as Strahd, there's a line between Strahd wanting to kill them and me wanting to kill them. Though we'd already had this understanding previously in the campaign, I wanted to make sure they knew I really, really wanted them to win. But I also couldn't go easy on them, especially in this battle.
Maybe your table doesn't need a chat like that, or maybe it really does and you yourself don't know it. Either way, I think it's a healthy talk to have, just in case. :)

Strahd's Location

Way back in my Tser Pool post, I recommended that you stack the deck a little on the card reading, so that the final battle with Strahd would begin either underground or in the castle spires. That way, players have to actually traverse and explore the castle a bit before showing down with our resident boss. Ravenloft is a wonderful location and traditional to dnd in general, so skipping some exploration in favor of an immediate fight never sat well with me.
If you go a similar route, remember that Strahd does not need to stay in that location. Eventually, he'll finish whatever business he has in whoever's crypt or whatnot and go confront the players. By the end of the campaign, you hopefully have a decent handle on pacing and know when it's the right time to begin the big showdown. Trust your judgement. Or, if it helps, trust Strahd's judgment. Strahd knows when it's time for the gloves to come off. ;)

Before the Battle

  • Everything So Far
    • At this point, your players have finished their exploration of Castle Ravenloft. Or, at the very least they've done as much exploration as you can feasibly allow them before Strahd gets pissed and comes to them.
      • Maybe they did the Heart of Sorrow side quest. Or maybe they've had an awkward dinner with a bride or two and slayed them. Maybe they tracked down Gertruda and successfully got her to an exit point.
      • Or perhaps you went with an alternative flow for Castle Ravenloft. Perhaps the party arrived for a wedding and now everyone is gathered in the chapel. Or maybe they stormed the castle with a peasant mob behind them singing, "Kill the Beast!"
    • No matter how the players have gotten here, they now encounter the Lord of Ravenloft and are ready to fight.
  • A Calm Prologue
    • Unless by some miracle your players manage to sneak up on Strahd (I honestly can't even imagine the planning and skill that would allow such a thing XD), Strahd will confront the players openly.
      • Note that I'm not talking straight stealth rolls here. Sure, a party with invisibility + pass without trace can beat Strahd's passive perception pretty easily. But do you really think a man like Strahd would allow such a thing? If Strahd is in a crypt mourning his mother and hasn't set alarm, a first level spell for goodness sake, on the entry way, then you are doing something horribly wrong. And let's not forget the variety of other divination spells Strahd might use to protect against known assassins in his home.
      • What I'm saying is that PCs should not be able to sneak up on Strahd unless under extreme circumstances. If your players have been plotting and planning for several sessions with other NPC/NPC factions for a surprise attack, then maybe they'll get a shot. But a Rogue saying, "I hide!" should do feck all to earn a surprise turn on Strahd flippin Zarovich.
    • Instead, what I would highly recommend is a very calm meeting that has an almost business-like undertone. My own players had been in the castle for over a day when they finally met Strahd. Strahd grew tired of them wandering around and had a servant lead them to his study in K37. There, he had them each given a shot of expensive brandy ("You needn't worry. You have proven yourselves worthy adversaries. I would not do you the dishonor of feeding you poison.").
    • He and the party then exchanged a few (un)pleasantries before he concluded in a little pre-written monologue. In that monologue, I calmly detailed the crimes that the party had committed in the castle, lamented about the untimely death of the brides they had killed (Ludmilla and Gertruda, which was an unfortunate accident lol), and finished by telling them that his patience was at an end.
      • "While your escapades in my realm have been entertaining, I'm afraid I can no longer allow your crimes to go unpunished. I, Count Strahd von Zarovich, son of King Barov von Zarovich, sentence you to death." Strahd gently places his wine glass on the end table beside his chair. Then, head held high and never breaking eye contact, he rises. With a quick, steady hand, he draws his sword. "Shall we begin?" Roll initiative.
  • Why a Calm before the Storm?
    • I personally like this kind of prelude to the final battle for several reasons. The main reason, however, is that I feel it is an excellent show of Strahd's personality.
      • No matter how horrible the situation or chaotic the surroundings, Strahd is confident of his own victory. Even if the peasant mobs are ransacking the castle, he is not worried. Even if the Heart of Sorrow is gone or if Ireena stands against him, sword in hand, Strahd knows he will win. He has nothing to panic about.
      • Strahd's complete confidence can serve to both infuriate and unnerve the party. They're here to kill Strahd, after all. So why isn't he at least visibly preparing? Is he really that powerful? They may be level 14ish, but perhaps they're still completely outmatched. That sort of mental game is a very Strahd thing to do.
      • Additionally, a direct confrontation plays right into Strahd's sense of honor. As evil as he may be, he is an extraordinarily lawful individual. Meeting his enemies face-to-face, as a gentleman might in a polite duel, is of more moral value to Strahd than stabbing them in the back, especially when he believes he can win.
  • Yes, this is a bit more specific advice that I usually give. But it worked very very well for my campaign.
  • It's absolutely okay to come up with an alternative however. Or, you might wish to alter this scenario for a different location in Ravenloft. The point is, I feel that a calm, collected introduction to the fight feels more thematically on point than Strahd bursting into a rage or sneaking up to shank the players. Plus, what grand finale is complete without a bad guy monologue? ;)

Becoming Strahd

This is perhaps the single most helpful thing I did to prep for the final boss battle: I stopped thinking of it as a fight between my players and a NPC. No, for this particular battle, it is you, the DM, versus your players. In this single instance, you are not the DM with a thousand characters and plot points to remember. Your player-character is Strahd von Zarovich and your mission is to win. Talk about method acting. XD
  • Strahd, the All-Knowing
    • This particular mindset works for many reasons. For one, Strahd is a very controlling, over-powered ruler. Strahd has been watching your players since the beginning of the campaign. He knows who they are and he knows how they fight. Strahd knows when the PCs were scared and he knows when they were confident. He knows their favorite spells and the battle tactics they fall back on.
    • Strahd knows your players. And guess what? So do you. In real life, you have probably seen their character sheets. You know the combinations of traits/attacks they favor. You know that one has a spell save DC of 19 and another still has a negative modifier on their strength.
    • While you've had to pull your punches before to stay in character (a rabid wolf will likely attack the nearest threat, even though that threat has a super AC compared to the mage standing a few squares away), but now you most certainly do not. If Strahd is not prepared to the nines for a fight with your players, then you are playing him wrong.
    • So plan.
      • Pick out spells for Stahd you know your players will have a hard time with.
      • If you know the rogue and cleric PCs have a wicked combo, make a plan to separate them.
      • Which PC has that stupid sunsword? How many ranged spells/attacks do you have to compensate for it? Or maybe you can inform some minions to wear that PC down?
    • The point is, Strahd is a centuries-old, battle-hardened war time General. If you haven't sat down and really come up with plans A, B, C, D, and E, this won't feel like a proper Strahd-battle.
  • It's Your Castle
    • Similarly, study the map. I'll say it again: study the map. If you took my advice and went through all that trouble to color-code the staircases and figure out some top-down maps, you're already half-way there.
    • Strahd has lived in the same castle for hundreds of years. He oversaw its construction for goodness sake. Strahd should know where each and every door leads by muscle memory alone. So use that knowledge.
    • Even if players acquired the blueprints to Ravenloft or a similar map, they won't know the place like you do. They don't know where the traps are or that the basement is filled with water. They'll have trouble navigating in mist-clogged rooms. You won't.
    • And it's not like the players will have the chance to study Ravenloft's map mid-turn. If they studied it prior to the whole fight, you can have them roll a history or survival check to remember general layouts or directions. But no player is going to know the castle like Strahd does.

The Flow of the Fight

A really good, final boss battle has stages. If you've played a video game or two, you likely know what I'm talking about. You fight the monster and during the fight, break the creature's magic stone, and suddenly it sprouts wings and gets a whole new attack pattern. Yes, maybe that sounds a bit cliché, but it works better than you'd think, especially in a dnd game. Technically, we've already seen this in CoS. Mid-way through the fight at Yester Hill, the treant comes alive. When Baba Lysaga loses too much health, her hut pulls up its roots and starts wrecking havoc. If it was cool then, why doesn't Strahd have a cool stage or two?
With all that said, here's how I recommend the final fight goes down.
  • Stage 1: A Gentleman's Duel
    • For the first part of the fight, Strahd's tactics should actually be rather restrained. He's not going all out and he's not willing to cross a couple lines.
    • For instance, he avoids the person wielding the sunsword and instead focuses on separating and eliminating the less pesky PCs. Additionally, he's using his sword, even though his claws are just as mechanically effective. But it looks proper and regal to use a sword.
    • Strahd sort of dances around the party, using a hit and run method to whittle them down. He doesn't use fireball in the middle of his study, for instance, because he's still concerned about the neatness of his home. And he deals enough damage to be scary, but hasn't really dedicated himself to absolutely wrecking the party yet.
    • It's during this stage that Strahd is more likely to use his Charm ability as well. He's trying to resolve the fight in the most calm manner possible. And Charm is one hell of an ability.
    • Lastly, during this first part of the fight, Strahd is avidly avoiding fighting or injuring the Tatyana reincarnation, be that Ireena or a PC. Though this character is trying to fight him, he's still trying to win her heart. Strahd might even be having a conversation with her between turns, which grows increasingly irrational and desperate.
      • "These people are poison, my love!" "I would give you the world!" "Don't you see? I would never make you pay for the sins which are theirs."
  • Stage 1.5: Tatyana's Rejection
    • At a certain point in the fight, Tatyana's rejection finally sinks in. This happens in one of two ways:
    • Tatyana Dies
      • During the fight, Ireena, the NPC, is killed. If Strahd isn't actually attacking her (which he isn't), this happens due to some accident or another. Maybe she throws herself in front of a PC to save them. Whatever. Ireena dies.
      • Or, if Tatyana's incarnation is a PC, she dies through some similar accident. There are area-of-effect spells, big falls, additional minions in the castle, etc. In dnd, it's not impossible for the Tatyana PC to be killed in this fight, even if Strahd is actively avoiding harming her.
      • So Tatyana dies, stolen from Strahd yet again. And he is enraged.
    • Tatyana Completely Rejects Strahd's Love
      • This is by far a more interesting option than Tatyana dying as a by product of the fight. Imagine it: There's a lull in the fight, and finally Ireena or the PC just breaks. She tells Strahd something along the lines of, "You are a monster and I will never love you!"
      • And for the first time in the whole dang campaign, Strahd takes a step back and believes her. Except, in true abuser fashion, he doesn't blame himself. Instead, he's angry with her. He was soooo sure that this time would be different; that this reincarnation would love him. And yet, everything fell apart.
      • So give Strahd another mini, enraged monologue. Shout at Tatyana/Ireena/thePC. Tell her things like, "I have given you everything! And still you judge me? You call me a monster!? How dare you! Do you realize how little your words matter? If you do not love me now, then you will in the next life!" He takes a little step back and starts to laugh. Like one of those deep laughs that comes from cynicism mixed with pure hatred. And then he says something like, "You think me a monster? I will show you a monster."
    • At this point, Strahd purposefully drops his sword and he transforms a little. The PCs hear his bones cracking as his fingers elongate into claws. His face contorts, growing more gaunt in the cheeks and more prominent in the jawline as his teeth seem to sharpen and protrude. The whites of his eyes flood black, making his red eyes seem to glow. He basically undergoes the change in the art below.
https://preview.redd.it/580spz8ewwq51.jpg?width=1502&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=ac101fd7dd4471f23041239244f983fec063bbd6
  • Stage 2: The Devil Strahd
    • The turn order resumes, maybe with a slightly more intense music track. But now, Strahd is no longer holding back. He's not politely using hit and run tactics and complimenting the party on their abilities. He is using everything he possibly knows to completely kill them, including Tatyana.
    • Once Strahd goes full monster mode, remember that he still has his wits. He still thinks tactically and all that. He just no longer cares about who he hurts or what he destroys in his path. He'll attack the Tatyana reincarnation indiscriminately, knowing that when she dies she'll just reincarnate and he can try to woo her again.
    • This is the real fight, using the full stat block and moving through the castle. I would advice that you try to move the fight upwards, towards the spires. Strahd has a bigger advantage with height, since falling isn't as much of an ordeal for him. He can literally walk on walls after all.
    • So move the fight. Let Strahd bait the party and use the castle to his advantage. There may be times when Strahd gets some other minions to fight while he heals.
    • There might also come a time or two where Strahd truly hides to heal and the party just can't find him. Do not pause turn order without asking your party first. Dropping initiative, even temporarily, gives Strahd a huge advantage since he has some real time to regenerate. If your party consents to dropping turn order while they hunt him down, fine. But don't just do that.
  • Stage 3: Vampyr
    • Firstly, I will not being going into the details of a Vampyr fight in this post. There simply isn't the space to include it all in one post. XP But I will touch on it here.
    • When Strahd falls to 0 HP, his body disintegrates into a cloud of mist. In the moment that this occurs, Vampyr is the closest he can be to the material plane. After all, it's his connection that keeps Strahd from truly dying.
    • While Strahd dies and Vampyr is close, the players have the opportunity to use whatever ritual or item or mechanism they gained from the Amber Temple to summon Vampyr to Barovia and attempt to either trap or kill the Dark Power. The following fight requires a lot of planning to set up. And I mean campaign wide planning. But if you can pull it off, it's worth it.
    • Once Vampyr shows up, the whole fight changes yet again, creating a sort of 'Strahd Final Form' vibe. And once he dies, Strahd dies for real and the campaign is won.

Strahd Mechanically

Let's take a step away from that more abstract advice and talk about mechanics.
  • A Note on my Suggestions
    • As written, Strahd is not strong. His stat block is... okay. But if you've taken my advice and upped the level of the campaign to about 14 or 15, Stahd's stats are just plain weak. And then if you throw in something like the Sunsword.... well, he just doesn't read as a boss at that point.
    • That being said, the following adjustments are my suggestions for a level 13-15 party of about 4 PCs. But I am by no means an expert on CRs in dnd. So I very much encourage you to take my advice and pick and choose what you feel would be best for your game.
    • Additionally, the following assumes the party only has the Sunsword. I reworked the Symbol of Ravenkind in my game as a key towards consecrating the Fanes and it was lost once the Fanes were restored. You can find more information on that in this Post. If you do have the raw Symbol in your game, along with any other sunlight creating items, additional adjustments might need to be made to your Strahd build.
  • Stats
    • Upping stats is the most basic and uncreative way to make an enemy more difficult. That being said, sometimes you do need a bit of adjustment.
    • HP
      • As written, Strahd can be easily killed in a single round if he's cornered. So firstly, make sure he's never cornered. XD But barring that, give him at least enough HP that he can't be downed in a single round if you mess up. One paladin spamming smites on multiattacks can wreck Strahd.
      • The tentative amount of HP I'd give him is about 300-450, depending on the average damage of your party.
    • AC
      • Strahd's AC is absolute BS. 16?? Please. Any PC above lvl 10 can dish out attacks over 16 pretty commonly. I'd personally make his AC about a 19 or 20.
    • Skills and Saving Throws
      • I'd give him a plus to Athletics checks too. Vampires are strong, and he's the boss man vampire. His 18 Str is fine, but I'd give him about a +7 to Athletics and a +7 to Strength saving throws. That will help negate most tactical moves against him, like grapples or shoves.
  • Abilities/Traits
    • Firstly, don't worry about Strahd's Shapechanger trait. It's not great in combat unless you have time for pure fluff. So ignore it. Unless, you use it to hide. Transforming into a tiny bat among swarms of bats is a good way to regen but stay close enough to watch the party.
    • Do not forget his 3 Legendary Resistances. This is one of the most powerful abilities in dnd, especially against mage PCs.
    • Spider Climb is old school vampire XD. And honestly, it can be pretty great if you pay attention to the ceiling heights in the castle.
    • I got rid of the 'stake to the heart' weakness.
    • Regen/Sunlight Sensitivity
      • These two traits are the two that you really need to keep track of, especially with the Sunsword around. Even the other Vampiric Weaknesses are all but negligible in the castle fight.
      • Firstly, Strahd has to be IN sunlight for it to hurt him. He takes a whopping 20 points of radiant damage at the start of his turn from it. AND it gives him disadvantage on attack rolls. So for fecksake, if you start a turn in sunlight, use your movement to first get out of the sunlight.
      • And then, if you've taken that Radiant damage, not only do you not get your regeneration that turn. But you also don't have it the next turn either. Sunlight sucks for Strahd.
    • Misty Escape
      • I changed this ability to correspond with Strahd's connection to Vampyr and therefore his immortality. In my version of Strahd, it reads as follows:
      • "Strahd's connection with Vampyr makes him truly immortal. When Strahd drops to 0 hit points outside his coffin, he transforms into a cloud of mist (as in the Shapechanger trait) instead of falling unconscious or dying. While he has 0 hit points in mist form, he travels to his coffin and reverts to his vampire form, unconscious and paralyzed. Strahd wakes with full hit points the following dusk."
    • Additions
      • I would also add the following traits to Strahd's stat block:
      • Magic Weapons. - Strahd's attacks are considered magical for the sake of overcoming resistances.
      • Unholy Persistence. - Strahd is immune to effects that turn undead.
  • Actions
    • Attacks
      • So at this point, I actually haven't done much to increase Strahd's difficulty. He's got a larger pool of HP, a bit more AC, and the ability to stop grapples. But really, that's not much to a party of lvl 13-15 players.
      • I'm a big believer in tactics. The majority of the raw Strahd block can work pretty well if you use his abilities strategically. But, if you really are concerned he may be too easy, I wouldn't up his + to attacks and/or his damage. Instead, just give him another multiattack. It's way less to keep track of.
    • Sword or Claws
      • Most images we see of Strahd show him carrying a sword. And yet his stat block only shows his unarmed attack. So what's the difference?
      • For the sake of simplicity, don't give them a difference. Really, it's just fluff. Strahd using a sword has a sort of eloquence to it. And we know how much Strahd prides himself on his gentlemanly nature. So he uses his sword for a while, but starts using his claws when he starts fighting more monstrously. But all the stats are the same so you have less to keep track of.
    • Charm
      • Strahd's Charm ability is actually pretty broken for an end game fight. It requires a single wisdom save to resist, and once you've failed, you don't get to make any other saves unless Strahd is stupid enough to attack the person he's charmed. The charm isn't concentration based and if Strahd fails to charm a target, he can just try again the following turn. And when charmed, you're charmed for a full 24 hours before it wears off without the ability or opportunity to shake the charm. Theoretically, all Strahd has to do is bait the party for a number of turns and charm them all, one at a time, to win.
      • So, we need something to negate this effect. The smart thing to do would be to give the players some kind of resistance as a boon from restoring the Fanes. Something like, "Blessing of the Forrest Fane - The Seeker has seen your worth and offers you her thanks. When you use this ability, you become immune to the Charmed effect for 1 hour. This ability recharges after a short or long rest."
      • Beyond giving the players a way to thwart Strahd's Charm ability, you can give an additional mechanical out. Let the players retry their wisdom save at the end of each of their turns when charmed. Something like that.
    • Lair Actions
      • If you're using a hardcover book, it's easy to forget Strahd's Lair Actions. Don't.
      • Lair Actions get their own turn on initiative 20 and even though Strahd is technically acting, they don't count against his turn at all.
      • The most important Lair Action by a flippin long shot is the first one, which allows Strahd to phase through walls, floors, and ceilings without interference. Combine that with some Legendary Movement (which doesn't provoke op attacks) and do you know how easy it is to go all Benny Hills with this ability?
      • The other Lair Actions - taking shadows, opening/closing doors, etc. - are pretty gnarly too, don't get me wrong. But in battle, being able to use all your movement to phase through rooms is pretty invaluable.

Spells and Magic, Oh My!

Strahd is a very accomplished wizard. And he's been around a long time. Don't give him spells you won't use and/or you know won't be effective against your players.
Instead, give him TWO spell lists. One for everyday (basically the rest of the campaign when he's spying on the party and all that), and one for combat. Open up the entire Wizard class spell list and pick and choose what you think would work best against this party.
  • Thematic Spells
    • That being said, remember your limits. Certain spell combos are quite powerful, but may not be something that Strahd would use. Additionally, remember that planar spells don't usually work since Barovia is a closed Demiplane.
    • I also noticed that a lot of Strahd's raw spells were similar to Baba's. And while that makes sense because Baba taught Strahd magic in the very beginning, I also wanted to differentiate their fights to my players. I got rid of spells like blight and polymorph. Really, I tried to mix both function and theme with my spells. For instance, Sickening Radiance is a dang good spell. But it inflicts radiant damage, which is very counter to Mr. Vampire.
  • Casting Level
    • As written, Strahd is a 9th level caster. Buuttttt if you have a particularly strong party (lvl 15, a large group, talented at tactics, etc.), bumping him up to about 11 isn't too unreasonable. He'll have access to 6th level spells and a couple extra slots. But I wouldn't actually adjust his spell save DC or spell attack modifier, or at least not by much.
  • Combat Spells
    • The following are my recommendations regarding Strahd's combat spell list. Remember that none of this is law. Use your own best judgment for your campaign. Hopefully some of my suggestions or reasonings inspire you.
    • LvL 1 (4 slots) - Feather Fall, Shield, Magic Missile, +1 of your choice
      • Lvl 1 spells are pretty meh in a high level battle. Magic Missile is a good standard distance spell, but really should only be last resort for a guy like Strahd, who has so many better options.
      • Feather Fall is an emergency measure. Strahd has a ton of movement and spider climbing and all kinds of defense against high heights. But just in case.
      • And Shield, which is also a reaction, can be used to prevent damage from radiant attacks in a last ditch effort, or avoid emergency damage. Don't blow all your 1st level slots too quickly, but save them for when you need them.
    • LvL 2 (3 slots) - Choose 3 (My recommendations are Mirror Image, Gust of Wind, and Web.)
      • Mirror Image is a pretty good protective spell, but should only really be used if you need time to retreat to heal. Misty Step might not be needed with all the movement Strahd already has, but it can come in handy in a pinch.
      • Blindness/Deafness requires a Con save. Consider use against a PC that has low Con.
      • Earthbind. ONLY prepare this spell if there's a PC mage partial to fly or something similar.
      • Gust of Wind and Earthen Grasp require Strength saves. Use Gust to blast a PC off a high height, which can be pretty interesting.
      • Hold Person requires a Wisdom save. Useful against PCs with low Wis.
      • Mind Spike. Technically a damage spell, which is alright. But it also requires a wisdom save, which is less great. BUT, if you have a PC that is partial to hiding, invisibility, or other sneaky tactics, this spell means they can't get the jump on you.
      • Web requires a Dex save, creates difficult terrain, is AOE, and restrains. Not bad.
    • LvL 3 (3 Slots) - Counterspell, Fireball, + 1 of your choice
      • Counterspell - personally, this is an absolute must against a PC spellcaster.
      • Fireball is one of the best spells in the game. Yes, it's straight damage, but lord it does just a little more than most any other spell. Plus, it's an AOE spell.
      • Haste and/or slow are amazing spells with the right combinations. With haste, you can cast a spell and attack in a single turn. And with slow, you can disable a bunch of enemies at once. These are two of my favorite spells and I use them as a player a lot too XD
      • There are a lot of Level 3 spells that require Wis saves. If you have a PC with low wis, choose from among those. If not, avoid them.
    • LvL 4 (3 Slots) - Greater Invisibilty, +2 of your choice
      • Greater Invisibility - This bad boy doesn't break after you attack or use other actions, thus potentially giving Strahd advantage on multiple attacks over multiple rounds. Invaluable.
      • Dimension Door is another quick escape spell. Black Tentacles and Ice Storm require different saves and create difficult terrain. Resilient Sphere requires a dex save and potentially completely incapacitates a PC for a couple turns. Fire Shield is defensive and useful if cornered.
    • LvL 5 (2 Slots) - 2 of your choice
      • Wall of Force - a good way to separate the party in a pinch.
      • Miselead - similar to Mirror Image, so useful for trick fighting and repositioning.
  • Spell Tactics In Battle
    • Choosing Your Loadout
      • After all that, hopefully you're picking up what I'm putting down regarding spell choice. Choosing spells has nothing to do with 'coolness' or the amount of dice you get to roll for damage.
      • Choosing spells is about function and exploiting your enemy's weaknesses. Most PCs have a weak stat, be that Strength, Intelligence, or otherwise. And there are usually spells that require saves in those elements and are therefore more likely to succeed.
      • Additionally, Strahd does a pretty good amount of melee damage. So if you're going to use a spell for your action instead of a multiattack, you need to be able to justify that action economy.
    • Disable, not damage!
      • Okay, so most people's instincts when playing spellcasters is to grab all the damage spells and make things go BOOM! Yes, it's fun, but it's wholly inefficient. And Strahd should be smart enough to realize that.
      • So for the love of blog, don't give Strahd all damage spells.
    • An Example:
      • Let's compare two spells; a disabling spell vs a straight damage spell. In this case, scorching ray and earthen grasp.
      • Let's say Strahd focuses on separating the party. And for a single turn, he manages to get say, the Rogue, alone. Or at least far enough away that the rest of the party can't help. Rogues normally have low Str, sometimes even including a negative modifier.
      • So Strahd's turn comes around. And he casts Earthen Grasp on the rogue. The Rogue has to make a Str Save against Strahd's whopping 18 DC. The chances of failure are quite high. So the Rogue fails and is restrained.
      • So far, Strahd has spent his action and a 2nd level spell slot. That's very little.
      • Throughout the rest of the round, Strahd has three legendary actions he can use to attack this Rogue. He'll have advantage on all the attacks because the Rogue is restrained. And the Rogue can't use any movement abilities as a reaction because their movement speed is 0. They're trapped there. With Strahd. XP
      • A single unarmed attack from Strahd averages about 22 HP a pop. Three of those comes to a potential 66 points of damage on average. Plus the initial damage done by earthen grasp. Plus, all the unarmed attacks are made with advantage allowing for a higher chance of a crit attack. And the Rogue can't get away.
      • In comparison, scorching ray requires three spell attacks against the Rogue's AC, which is probably quite high by now. You have a much less chance to hit them. Additionally, if you use all three of your legendary actions to attack the Rogue, you're making three fewer rolls than you would be if the Rogue was restrained.
      • Both are level 2 spells and both require an action to cast. And yet the potential profits from a disabling spell like earthen grasp are so much higher than just throwing fire at the enemy.
  • Passive Spells (to be used throughout the rest of the campaign)
    • The following list is much shorter, since it's not terribly important for the final battle lol. It also has some gaps that you can fill in with a few of the battle spells if you'd like.
    • Lvl 1 - Alarm, Disguise Self, Detect Magic
    • Lvl 2 - Detect Thoughts, Knock
    • Lvl 3 - Counterspell, Nondetection, Sending, Glyph of Warding
    • Lvl 4 - Arcane Eye
    • Lvl 5 - Scrying, Dream, Geas

Overall Tactics

  • Retreat and Heal
    • Strahd heals quite a lot with his regen trait. 20 HP per turn for goodness sake. If you make Strahd just stand there and take damage from enemies, he will die quickly. So don't do that!
    • If Strahd is hurting (and I don't mean critically hurt, I mean like, maybe half HP. Take no chances) use some disengage and then legendary action yourself the hell out of dodge. Lead players to a castle trap or to a room where you know there are extra enemies to engage the players while you run off to heal. It doesn't take long to hit full HP again if you're careful. Plus, you can use your knowledge of the castle to sneak around and get a surprise attack or something.
  • Move!
    • Strahd has a lot of movement. And his legendary movement doesn't invoke op attacks. I've said it three or four times in this post already: Don't let Strahd just stand there and get hit!
  • Sticks and Stones
    • After you've retreated a couple times, your players will get wise. They may try to taunt you into showing up before you feel better.
    • Don't fall for it. Strahd is prideful, but he's also very, very intelligent. He knows that war and battle are not the places to let your emotions get out of hand. He will not be that disney villain that bwahahas his way to his own demise because he fell for the hero's goading.
    • The players can call Strahd a coward or anything else all they want. Strahd does not care. As far as he's concerned, they will soon be dead and he will be alive. And that is that.
  • "I hate my brother's fecking sword."
    • From taking my own advice and playing this fight as if I were Strahd, I can tell you with absolute confidence that that stupid sunsword is the most annoying thing in all Barovia. Good god I got so frustrated with the fighter in my campaign and that stupid sword. XD (Not with the player, mind you, but as Strahd trying to win the fight.)
    • Most of Strahd's attacks are melee. And the sword emits sunlight for quite the radius around the wielder. Its damage hurts and it disables your healing. It sucks.
    • On the other hand, ill preparation for this sword might be the loophole the party needs to win. And you can totally give them that. It fits the narrative so well, it's scary lol.

In Summary

Hopefully, all this advice helps you provide a challenging fight to your players. No single stat block is going to work for every campaign. So I highly encourage you to read through this and then pick and choose what might work for your game. Figure out your dice averages and then build/alter Strahd's stat block from there. How much does your Strahd need? More HP? More proficiency? Or just a different spell list? You've run almost the whole campaign by this point. So trust your judgement. And then bwahaha your way through an awesome boss fight! ;)
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Okay, this turned out WAY longer than I thought it would be. If you've read my in-depth analysis of Strahd's stat block, cheers! XD In the next chapter, I'll cover Vampyr and ending the campaign. Wow!
- Mandy
submitted by MandyMod to CurseofStrahd