No. Strahd Von Zarovich, the Vampire villian of the D&D adventure module starting back in AD&D, cannot be completely destroyed. Because he is the ruler of a Domain of Dread, if “killed” Strahd will regenerate within his Domain anywhere from a few days to months later.
However, even though according to Rules as Written, Strahd cannot be destroyed, there are lots of homebrew options to allow your players to destroy the Dark Lord of Barovia!
Can Strahd Actually Die?
With the rules as written in the module, the answer to the question is sadly a resounding “no”. Lords of Dread Domains are immortal, and if somehow able to be “killed”, they will simply manifest alive and well anywhere from a few months to decades after being killed; which is vaguely up to the DM to decide.
The Dark Powers, the ultimate arbiters for all the Dread Realms, are the anchors to Strahd’s soul unable to leave the plane. They simply want the Lords to live for all eternity in the large prison they themselves created.
Aside from Dark gods unwilling to let their prisoners leave, another unique trait about Strahd is that he has god-like abilities that other vampires couldn’t even dream of having. The ability to control the weather, the sun and moon, summon bolts of lightning strong enough to evaporate a lake, meld with the walls and floor of his own Ravenloft, the list is impressive, and there’s no solidified mechanic that covers all the powers he possesses.
Strahd is even “The Ancient, the Land”, and that can be interpreted in a number of ways.
My point is, Strahd is unique, with so many anchors, laws and powers, with a little homebrewing, the DM can utilize tools, twist rules and add plentiful ideas to change the narrative and the goal immensely to where the players can discover a way that would truly destroy Strahd.
What Happens if Strahd Dies?
According to the lore of Ravenloft and module as is, after Strahd’s temporary death, his body is no more and his soul lingers with the Dark Powers.
The denizens of Barovia and your players will be able to escape and live their lives outside the walls of Strahd’s domain, given if they have a soul. (that’s right, some Barovians do not have a soul! This fun hidden tidbit and more are outlined in my article about what DM’s need to know about Curse of Strahd!)
But, over time, Strahd will reform and he will repeat the process of inviting or kidnapping people into his realm to replenish the population until he is defeated by another band of heroes, again. And again. And again.
I think most people and players want that finite finish, that feel-good sensation of accomplishment that they completely destroyed the biggest, most famous villain in D&D, that they permanently saved the Barovians and others from ever experiencing this again.
Personally, I gave my players little to no choice the first two times to give Strahd a definite ending, and I’ll give the same for the third. I’m a fan of bittersweet stories, and I wanted my players to feel like heroes but also powerless at the same time, because in the grand scheme of things, with the dark gods and their power, the PCs can do nothing about it except escaped Strahd’s clutches, saving the few they could.
Strahd, Domains of Dread and Vampyr
A Domain of Dread is created when someone from a plane of existence commits such a heinous, evil act that dark gods and entities are actually attracted to the site and the person who committed the great sin.
This creates and traps the offender in their own prison, unable to leave, unable to truly die, reforming months or years later if killed to be trapped once again. This is their punishment, and this is Strahd’s current fate when the players arrive.
Strahd initially attracted these powers when he travelled to the Amber Temple, an ancient temple housing some of the darkest entities in all existence. There, he made a deal with one of the entities, Vampyr, a vestige and minor god.
Vampyr is not the being keeping Strahd in his own prison, but it is important to note that he is the one that gave Strahd his powers, to become the first vampire in existence. Keep in mind it’s also unclear whether or not Vampyr is still the conduit for Strahd’s immense power, or their current relationship or even goals.
To come up with options for destroying Strahd forever, think through the following questions:
- If you were Strahd or his vestige, would you be content staying in this valley forever? I’d probably guess “no”. If that’s the case, would Strahd need his potential conduit still, or vice versa?
- Strahd clearly doesn’t like the Dark Powers locking him up, so does Vampyr feel the same way?
- If true godhood can be obtained by mortals, and there’s a plethora of gods in Barovia already, can Strahd or Vampyr ascend further, and can such godly powers also be taken away?
These are the types of questions DM’s should focus on to get to the answer on not just if Strahd can be truly killed, ascend or escape, but how.
Alternatives to Killing Strahd
There are a couple of ideas I’ve seen floating around the internet on how to kill Strahd. One DM suggested forcing or tricking Strahd to wear Van Richten’s ring, then kill him thus trapping Strahd’s soul inside the ring.
I don’t think this plan could happen unless your PCs place the ring on Strahd while in his coffin before plunging the final stake. For me, I don’t like the anti-climactic ending of the players running down the castle as fast as possible to put a ring on him and end it with a piece of wood, so I simply have Strahd meld with the floor during the initial fight to escape if things go south for him, skipping the mist all-together.
Another alternative (and one I don’t recommend) is to beat Strahd into submission until the moment before he dies, force him to give up his throne to a PC, so they can inherit the “Curse of Strahd”.
It was silly, and when I was a player in my first playthrough with this module, that was my DMs alternative plan for us to save the realm for good. Silly, being the fact it was out of character for Strahd to hand over something so important to him, all while losing his pride in submitting to lowly PCs.
He lost his pride by being defeated, so why have more salt in his wounds when I picture him accepting death far before pleading for life. That, and what’s stopping the PCs from simply killing Strahd as soon as the transfer of power is complete? I was baffled and didn’t enjoy it. It doesn’t fit with Strahd as a character, so I would say, just don’t do it.
Homebrew, Strahd’s Conclusive Ending
Curse of Strahd is deep in lore and extremely vague in mechanics and character ambitions, and I believe we can utilize, twist and add to the narrative that truly leaves it open for interpretation. These are the possible means to achieve a conclusive ending you find fitting for not only your PCs, but the fate of Barovia and Strahd himself.
Vampyr is trapped in the Amber Temple, his champion rules this domain, and he wants out, as well. He can either use his protege, Strahd, to break out alone or want to continue being his patron outside his prison. Being the conduit to Strahd’s powers, what if the PCs found a way to temporarily “banish” Vampyr through a ritual at the Amber Temple?
Would Strahd’s immortality be gone or would the Dark Powers just reform him still? If you want this to be the avenue to killing Strahd for good, maybe instead of Vampyr being a vistage, have him be a Dark Power instead, like Mother Night.
Maybe he wants more and is the actual reason for Strahd’s unending life. If he’s gone, then make it a race against time to get from the Amber Temple to Castle Ravenloft to end Strahd for good before Vampyr’s sealing dissolves.
Deal with The Dark Powers Directly
As evil deities, I’m sure The Dark Powers have their own ambitions to reach higher powers, why wouldn’t they? I can’t imagine them being on good terms with both Strahd and Vampyr, being they’re both imprisoned because of the Dark Powers.
If Strahd and possibly Vampyr are being too ambitious for their own good, wouldn’t the Dark Powers eventually be at odds with them? They might want them gone or replaced out of fear? Perhaps they hold the true throne, and Strahd wants to take it for himself and he’s finally found a way.
If The Dark Powers are beginning to fear Strahd, they might be willing to make a deal with the party to destroy him. But adventurers be warned! Such a deal is sure to come at an unexpected price! (Check out Making Deals with Devils as a reference!)
Using the Fanes of Barovia
The Hags of Barovia were not always Hags. Once they were Archfey who ruled over the valley of Barovia. They were known as The Seeker, the Weaver and The Huntress. When Strahd conquered the valley, he destroyed their shrines and turned them into Hags.
The Valley once belonged to these entities, and it could again. Players could remind the Hags of what they once were and offer to help restore them if they lend the players power they need to destroy Strahd and trap his soul.
If you want more on the Fanes, check out this article on Reddit!
Strahd is by far the most complicated character in any adventure module I have run. So it become important to ask yourself in your version of Curse of Strahd: What does Strahd want?
The ending of your story hinges on what he desires the most. Would he want to work with Vampyr? Ignore his presence all together? Or (what I chose) have the ambition to want to take Vampyr’s powers for himself through some sort of ritual or other means he’s found.
Your PCs can be the final piece to his puzzle, connecting them to the story even further. And if he finally obtains Vampyr’s and maybe even every vistage locked in the Amber Temple, then Strahd can ascend to true godhood, breaking the Dark Powers hold and prison, thus making him not only lesser deity, but killable now since he has no other immediate avatar to cling to.
Champions of Lathander
Although it is true that the Morninglord has abandoned Barovia, leaving only Mother Night, a Dark god, within Barovia, he is not entirely gone. But a lot of players and DMs don’t know this fun tidbit, the Morninglord goes by another name outside of Barovia now: Lathander. Yes, that Lathander.
But why bring up him? Well, the Morninglord is brought up countless times throughout the campaign and is never interacted with or utilized in the least. But you can change that! Lathander has plenty of reasons to want to help out Barovia still, he’s just waiting for the short window where the barrier from the Dark Powers is gone or weakened.
If Strahd ascends to godhood, Strahd’s going to breach the barrier, giving the good Morninglord the opportunity to finally do something: like imbue your heroes with divine powers, temporarily leveling up your PCs to level 15-20 and taking on god Strahd for the final battle to end him permanently.
If you go with this route, have your players make a level 15-20 version of their PC beforehand and have fun with the epic domain shattering battle.
You don’t need to run this final battle. In fact, if you use the other entities and plot points, as long as you find a reason for Lathander to breach the thinning wall to Barovia. Maybe he can give your players the short opening needed to kill Strahd and send his soul to the Nine Hells.
Anything is possible if you concentrate on the vague laws and mechanics around the Dark Powers, Vampyr, Strahd and the interaction with the barrier and the outside worlds. Use these to your advantage as a DM to create interesting and character-driven options to end the Dark Lord’s reign forever!
I hope this gives your game advantage, my friends!