D&D Druid

Zarovich v. Pixies: A Case Study

In an online community the other day, it was asked what a druid could summon with conjure fey that was “worth a crap” against Strahd von Zarovich, Count of Barovia. I mean, a fey mammoth is always a good choice if you are going to stick with that particular spell. However, the hilariously broken conjure woodland beings allows you to summon eight pixies at 4th-level, or sixteen pixies at 6th-level, the same level slot you’d need to cast conjure fey in the first place. The person confirmed the character was high enough level to cast a 6th. From what I understand, characters are meant to be 9th when they engage Strahd, but obviously this varied for whatever reason. Anyway, I thought I would examine what casting conjure woodland beings against Strahd might look like, based on the question being asked.

It’s not any secret conjure woodland beings is broken. Pixies are a CR 1/8 creature, mainly because they deal 0 damage and are fragile. However, you trade a single 4th-level spell slot for each one of the following: confusion, dancing lights, detect evil and good, detect thoughts, dispel magic, fly, phantasmal force, polymorph, and sleep. The pixies follow your command, which costs you no action, and have their own initiative. Their dexterity bonus is pretty good, so they likely get to act in a timely fashion. Now, the spell is concentration. The druid can fail a check, and the shenanigans end. Also, the pixies don’t have a very challenging DC, only checking in at 12. If an 11th-level druid, based on the question asked in the community, did this against the mighty Count Zarovich, what would happen?

We have to make a few assumptions to start off. For this case, let’s say that legendary resistance was used by Strahd once, and let’s say the pixies go before Strahd’s next turn. It’s not exactly an unreasonable scenario. Strahd doesn’t have any immunities innately, but he has great base stats and has proficiency in charisma, dexterity, and wisdom saving throws. He is also immune to the pixies’ polymorph, due to the spell not working against shapeshifters. This puts the pixie spells working about 15-35% of the time, depending on the saving throw in question. Of course, with sixteen pixies taking a turn, those percentages can definitely add up.

Assuming the pixies go before Strahd, they start to cast entangle first. This is a Bad Problem for Strahd. His strength score is +4, so he doesn’t have to roll too well, but a roll of 7 or below sinks him, causing him to become restrained. Having disadvantage on all dexterity saving throws and attack rolls, and all attacks having advantage against him isn’t something he would want. He could spend his entire action trying to break out, but that’s not exactly economical. He would solve this by using his turn to polymorph into mist, but that’s a turn where he isn’t causing havoc. The funny thing is, turning into mist doesn’t explicitly free him from the restraint. If he doesn’t want to do that, he’s going to need to start burning his legendary resistance in a hurry.

As a side note, a literal reading of his stat block means if Strahd turns to mist, he can never turn back. He polymorphs as an action, including reverting to his true form. When he is mist, it explicitly states Strahd can’t take any actions. His ability misty escape is only written to apply when he is at 0 hp. So, he turns to mist, and has to float around forever until he takes enough damage to drop to 0 hp to then be able to return home and revert. I am sure this is not the intent, but it’s a literal read. It’s just a little area that needs some clarity to prevent this literal reading. I don’t think a sane person would do that. Since interacting with material objects is explicitly stated, it’s clear take actions means actions in a mechanical sense.

From a purely mathematical average point of view, Strahd is failing 1 in 3 of these saves. In the scenario posed, Strahd is failing five saves on Entangle from the pixies. Even if he had all uses of legendary resistance, he’s probably burning all three on just the entangles. Just to reiterate, having disadvantage on all attack rolls and disadvantage on dexterity saving throws is rough for Strahd. He doesn’t have energy immunities, and his attacks are all attack rolls. While it is true he can vampire charm people each turn, and summon wolves or bats, provided the sun isn’t up, he still wouldn’t want to be sitting duck for a heavy hitting spell. There are also a lot of ways to be immune to or heavily girded against charm, which renders the safety net inert.

This is just right away, remember. By the 12th pixie, Strahd has probably failed four saves, is out of legendary resistance, and is now entangled. The other four pixies do not waste their entangles at this point, and instead likely start on confuse. Confuse is an interesting spell, as it doesn’t actually impose any condition, and immunity to the confuse spell isn’t really spelled out precisely. Now, Strahd is much better at shaking off the effects of this spell, given the low DC of the pixies, but it’s still not a sure thing, and he’s out of legendary resistances. Out of the four pixies remaining, he has a good chance to fail a save against this. He will get a save again next turn, and probably shake it off, but for that turn he’s probably not doing much. He’s either literally taking no actions (50% chance), moving but not doing anything else (10% chance), randomly attacking someone within melee range only or otherwise doing nothing (20% chance), or acting normally (20% chance). For those keeping track, this means the entangle continues to stick around, and Strahd doesn’t polymorph or call allies or charm people, most likely.

This becomes a real problem in the following rounds. If Strahd isn’t confused, he has to try and break the entangle. Misting or other polymorphing doesn’t free him, and he has to get out. If he’s confused, there’s only a 20% chance he’s trying to break out. The pixies who haven’t yet attempted to entangle Strahd will do so if he is not yet entangled, or if he breaks free. If he breaks the confusion the pixies who are not maintaining the entangle will attempt to cast confusion. Odds are, he ends this round in a similar state to the last. It’s a bad time. It’s something of an open question if confusion prevents legendary actions from occurring. The spell includes wording about “taking no actions”, while the generic legendary actions entry in the Monster Manual (p. 11) only states they can’t use legendary actions while incapacitated. I would rule in favor of the more specific confusion entry, but I can see this being argued, and wouldn’t fault any one for whatever ruling they went with in this case.

Anyway you slice it, the odds that Strahd ends his turn without taking another action is pretty high. By the third round of this, Strahd is probably getting out of things now, but it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that he is still entangled as a result of the previous round. During the intervening rounds, hopefully someone has had the opportunity to start with the radiant damage to stop the regeneration from occurring. Even if they haven’t, dealing the entirety of Strahd’s life total in damage isn’t all that crazy to consider. He’s only listed at 144 HP, which isn’t exactly a pile for a CR 15 creature. He’s going to have disadvantage on Dexterity throws during that time, which is huge. Not to mention the druid could be a total bastard and cast contagion on Strahd and take advantage of his inability to act. Filth fever, flesh rot, and slimy doom are all just awful diseases for him. Strahd has a good constitution score, but possesses no other defense against the spell.

Filth fever pretty much ensures he stays entangled,  flesh rot leads to an insta-kill, and slimy doom stun locks him. He’s not immune to disease, and while a +4 con bonus is nice, it’s hardly something to write home about. An 11th-level druid is probably rocking a DC 17 saving throw. Yikes indeed. I know this is about the pixies, but what I am illustrating here is the ridiculous combo that is allowed and is very little risk thanks to pixie shenanigans. First round pixies, second round diseases. Strahd is pretty much dead as a result of this. 144 damage when he has vulnerability, or is stunned until the end of his turn when he takes damage? Donezo.


Once Strahd starts taking piles of damage, the pixies begin to cast sleep. Yeah, Strahd isn’t immune to that. Why? There is probably a good reason. He’s just not immune to it. It’s probably not something that will come up, if you didn’t get sixteen free castings of it, of course. Eventually, a pixie will roll enough on the dice to catch Strahd if he is taking piles and piles of damage, and he probably is from the advantage the players would have to attack him, and his inability to take any actions on his own.

I don’t know enough about the encounter to say this is for certain how it would go, or if the PCs could pronounce the final word on Strahd as a result of what would probably be a decisive victory on their part. However, it should illustrate how ridiculous conjure woodland beings is when you scale it up, because of the pixies. It’s a problem.

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