Spoilers for Baldur’s Gate 3 below, although not any story spoilers. Just combat spoilers, if that’s a thing.
UPDATE: Some people are probably here to quickly find out how to kill these Death Shepherds. The short answer is: Don’t let them cast that No Rest for the Wicked to instantly resurrect their fallen comrades, including the other Death Shepherd. I used things like Counterspells or Polymorph. Also I think it’s easier if you damage both Death Shepherds equally until you’re ready to kill both at the same time, rather than focusing down one at a time. Lesser Restoration was helpful to counter the paralysis from the ghouls and ghasts, too.
I’ve had some pretty thrilling battles in Baldur’s Gate 3 on Tactician difficulty. In Act 1: The Gnolls, the Phase Spider Matron, the Hook Horrors, the Spectator. Dror Ragzlin. But this one in Act 2 was the most adrenaline-fueled thrill ride of a roller coaster to date. And as luck would have it, I’m off work this week so I can afford to waste nearly my entire day writing it down.
The First Attempt
My party lineup for this adventure was Tavi, the Bard with the Bongos, Karlach, the Dancing Barbarian with the Heart of Gold, Shadowheart, the murderous Dark Justiciar Cleric in Training, and Gale, the Wizard of Waterdeep and Mystra enthusiast. (I switched out Astarion for Gale, because the addition of Counterspell and Fly at level 5 suddenly made Gale less of a liability to the party.)
It all started after entering the Mountain Pass, ending up on the Rosymorn Monastery Trail, then choosing to go left at the fork at Trielta Crags instead of right. This is the very first decision in “Act 2.” The game doesn’t really say it’s Act 2. Only The Internet calls it that. [Update: In reality it’s more like Act 1.5.] Anyway, I walked straight into a pack of Ghouls, a Ghast, and two Death Shepherds, all level 5 undead.
It was my first fight in Act 2, and the party was level 5. I was very worried about the Ghast, based on my Solasta: Crown of the Magister adventures, but I couldn’t remember why. Then the Ghast paralyzed Karlach, my death-dealing machine, for two turns, and I remembered why I was nervous about Ghasts. Then the Death Shepherds started raising all the previously-killed Ghouls. Then the party died, though technically two of them managed to flee, but it was for nothing, since all the enemy undead were raised back to unlife.
It wasn’t even a named boss fight. Just some trash mobs on the road. But it was a hard rejection. A strong hint to go the other way.
I reloaded and went right at the fork, exploring the Rosymorn Monastery. There were some tense fights there, too, particularly against a pack of cute little Gremishkas, in which I was certain the party would die, but they managed to pull out a victory in the end. And then there was a fight in the Githyanki Creche, in which I was really certain the party would die, but they managed to pull out a victory, with only Karlach left standing at the end. Both of those fights could be their own narrative posts.
After all that, the party reached level 6, and there was nothing left at the Rosymorn Monastery to explore. It was time to return to that fork in the road at Trielta Crags. I needed to defeat the Death Shepherds, because I needed to get past them to head west toward the Moonrise Towers I keep hearing about, and, presumably, the remainder of the game.
The Second Attempt
I had a plan. The two Death Shepherds were the biggest threats with their apparently unlimited ability to casually raise any of their fellow undead with full hit points, so I planned to focus entirely on them and ignore the others. And I planned to get them both down to low hit points, but not kill them, until I could kill them both together, because I assumed (correctly) that each Death Shepherd would simply resurrect the other Death Shepherd, if one died before the other.
Also, incidentally, undead are resistant to Slashing, Bludgeoning, and Piercing damage, so Karlach’s monstrous weapon damage potential was largely nullified in this fight. It was slow work to whittle down every one of these undead with a great axe.
The second attempt at the fight also ended in a TPK, largely because Gale accidentally killed a Death Shepherd too soon with a Thunder Wave, and also because I discovered that not only do the Ghasts paralyze, all those Ghouls do, too. Fail a save and one party member is out of commission for two full turns, and every attack against them is an automatic critical hit. Not good. And I didn’t have Lesser Restoration prepared then to dispell it, either.
The Ghast also has a stench that renders a party member unable to use an action, too. Every Ghoul and Ghast has the potential to render party members completely ineffective for one or more turns. Nasty stuff.
Tavi died, then Gale died. Still, a victory could have been possible, but I didn’t realize that Karlach couldn’t do her massive damage Legacy of Avernus abilities while she’s raging, so I couldn’t do enough damage to kill the second Death Shepherd before it raised the first Death Shepherd, and that was the end of the second attempt.
It’s really disheartening to see a Death Shepherd you worked so hard to kill over a bunch of turns raised back up in one turn with full hit points.
The Third Attempt
For the third attempt, I had a better plan. This time I thought it might be fun to prepare some spells I would need: Shadowheart took Lesser Restoration, which cures paralysis, and Gale took Fireball. And for the third attempt, I hoped not to forget that Shadowheart could turn undead until it was too late.
Round 1, A Hilarious Start
The battle begins. Before the battle, Shadowheart cast Beacon of Hope on the party, hoping it would help with making saving throws against paralysis, although it turned out to be useless for that. But it did mean all healing spells restored the maximum possible hit points.
The goal was to get a surprise round, like what the party achieved in the second attempt, but that didn’t come to pass.
Tavi the Bard casts Tasha’s Hideous Laughter on the closest Death Shepherd (we’ll call it Darren the Death Shepherd to try to avoid some intensely confusing writing later on), which succeeds and takes it off the battlefield, prone on the ground. With her bonus action, she gives a Bardic Inspiration to Karlach.
Two Ghouls advance from down the road to join the battle.
Karlach goes into a Wild Magic rage, and gets the flowers and vines effect, making difficult terrain around her. It’s not the best one, but also not the worst one. She can’t hit Darren, the nearby Death Shepherd succumbing to laughter, so the closest enemy is one of the advancing Ghouls, which she hits twice with her massive Blooded Greataxe, but only for 5 and 6 hit points of damage against the resistant undead. This is a pitiful amount for Karlach, who is more accustomed to doing some 15+ damage per hit.
Gale can’t attack Death Darren either, and nobody else is in range, so he casts a Fire Bolt cantrip from behind a wagon on that same Ghoul and hits it for a whopping 15 damage, leaving it with just 2 hit points.
Shadowheart tries to cast her own Fire Bolt on that near-dead Ghoul to finish it off but misses. In hindsight, missing worked better, because one of the Death Shepherds would have just resurrected it back to full health. She moves back and maintains her distance, to keep concentrating on Beacon of Hope.
The second Death Shepherd (we’ll call it Drusilla the Death Shepherd) dashes up close to Karlach. The Ghast also approaches Karlach. The badly wounded Ghoul claws at Karlach, but misses.
Round 2, No Turning Back
Tavi the Bard continues to concentrate on Tasha’s Hideous Laughter to keep Darren the Death Shepherd down. They hit hard, twice per round with those greatswords. Tavi uses her action to cast a Vicious Mockery cantrip on the second Death Shepherd, Drusilla, which succeeds for a point of psychic damage, but more importantly gives it disadvantage on any attacks, which will help Karlach in the thick of things. Tavi moves back as well, to maintain her distance from the paralyzing undead.
Darren the Death Shepherd makes its saving throw and stands up again from the Hideous Laughter, so it’s back in the battle. It’s standing near Karlach.
Gale sees Death Darren stand up, so he tries to cast another Fire Bolt cantrip on it but misses. He stays well back behind the wagon at the fork in the road.
One Ghoul starts to move past Karlach, and another one tries to claw at her but misses.
The plan is to ignore everything else and whittle down the Death Shepherds, so Karlach steps away from the Ghoul pack toward Death Darren, who is closer to the rest of the party. She receives two attacks of opportunity, but luckily they both miss. She’s now between the two Death Shepherds. She makes two attacks for 8 and (a critical) 13 slashing damage on Death Darren. That eats through the temporary hit points, but it still has a big 47 hit points remaining. With her bonus action, Karlach shoves a Ghoul away, which succeeds, but it has little practical effect.
Shadowheart sees that it’s time to Turn Undead. (Something I completely forgot about in the second attempt at this fight.) They’re all clumped together, but she’s a little too far away. She uses the jump-and-move trick to extend her movement range and get a maximum amount of distance. She runs forward near Karlach, within range of the clump of Undead surrounding Karlach. She casts Turn Undead, and every single one of the undead is in range. This is a big moment, a lot depends on this. I cackled, thinking most of the Ghouls and maybe even the Ghast would run away, and this fight would be off to an amazing start.
It wasn’t to be. Tavi chooses not to do Cutting Words on several Ghouls, hoping to save it for the Ghast, but when an opportunity appears to use it on a Death Shepherd instead, she takes it to make it fail its save. Unfortunately, Death Shepherds are immune to terror. None of the undead are turned, and Shadowheart is left vulnerable near the front line. My cackling turned to a grimace.
Death Drusilla attacks Karlach in the back with two greatsword attacks, hitting once for 2 damage. Seeing a new target, the near-dead Ghoul claws at Shadowheart but misses. The Ghast also runs up and claws at Shadowheart, hitting for 6 damage, but she maintains concentration on Beacon of Hope. Unfortunately, she fails her saving throw against the Ghast’s Nausea. She won’t have an action next turn.
Round 3, Paralysis
At this point, I learned that Beacon of Hope only lasts a short time, regardless of whether you maintain concentration. I thought it lasted forever, or at least until concentration dropped. Oh well.
Despite the failure to turn any Ghouls, we were holding our own. Karlach stayed up on the front lines, between two Death Shepherds, while Tavi and Gale stayed way back. Shadowheart was in some trouble, caught in a cluster of undead–the Ghast and some Ghouls.
Worried that Death Darren might leave the front line and run amok in the back lines instead of engaging Karlach, Tavi attempts to do another Tasha’s Hideous Laughter on it, but it fails. She gives a Bardic Inspiration to Shadowheart, to help her get away from the three undead now surrounding her nauseous self. Tavi creeps backward again.
Another Ghoul runs from the background into the difficult terrain surrounding Karlach but doesn’t reach anyone. Death Darren steps away from Karlach, not toward Tavi or Gale, but toward Shadowheart, and Karlach hits it for 6 damage as it leaves. Shadowheart luckily dodges one of Death Darren’s greatsword attacks, and then Tavi uses Cutting Words to make the second greatsword attack miss as well. Shadowheart escapes the onslaught without any damage.
Gale continues the tradition of casting a Fire Bolt cantrip on Death Darren from behind the wagon and misses again, disappointing everyone.
One Ghoul claws at Karlach, but misses. Another Ghoul tries to reach Karlach, but is slowed in the difficult Wild Magic terrain and can’t reach her.
(At this point I finally realized that it’s not a game bug after all, it’s the barbarian rage that prevents Karlach from using her Legacy of Avernus abilities.)
Karlach is still engaged with the second Death Shepherd, Death Drusilla, and a Ghoul. She strikes at the Death Shepherd, uses Reckless and hits for 10 hit points, but it makes its save against the Laceration effect. The second attack, with reckless advantage, hits for 7 hit points.
(At this point I learned that the paralysis save uses Constitution, not Wisdom, so the Beacon of Hope isn’t helping with that. Oh well. It’s handy to improve healing, too.)
Shadowheart is surrounded by a Ghast, a Ghoul, and Death Darren. She needs to get out of there if she wants to maintain concentration on Beacon of Hope. She uses a bonus action Misty Step (using her boots I think) to teleport away. Still suffering the effects of Nausea from the Ghast, she can’t take an action, and runs far away to the back, behind Tavi.
Karlach is left by herself on the road, surrounded by undead, while the rest of the party is back by the wagons. Karlach takes two greatsword hits from the Death Drusilla for 7 total hit points. The near-dead Ghoul, now that Shadowheart has disappeared, claws at Karlach instead for 2 damage, but even worse, paralyzes her! The Ghast piles on and gets an automatic critical hit against the paralyzed Karlach for 9 more damage. Karlach ends the round paralyzed, with about two-thirds of her hit points remaining, but on the plus side, she isn’t Nauseous.
Round 4, The Fog Cloud
Tavi tries again to cast Tasha’s Hideous Laughter on Death Darren. It fails again. What is she doing? In hindsight, I’m not sure. She doesn’t exactly have damaging spells, so crowd control is her thing. She does a bonus action Healing Word on Karlach, and restores the full 7 hit points thanks to the Beacon of Hope. All four of her first-level spell slots are gone now.
One Ghoul tries to maneuver around to Karlach, but the difficult terrain means it can’t reach her. Death Darren, perhaps chasing Shadowheart, who teleported away, dashes out of Karlach’s difficult terrain and into the back lines, and there’s nothing left between the Death Shepherd and Gale, Shadowheart, and Tavi.
Gale casts a Fog Cloud surrounding Karlach, in the hope that all the undead surrounding her will have a harder time hitting her while she’s paralyzed. Three Ghouls and Death Drusilla, congregating around Karlach, are blinded. Gale continues to move backward, away from Death Darren lumbering down the road at them.
Sadly, the fog doesn’t help, because two Ghouls get automatic critical hits on paralyzed Karlach for a total of 11 more damage to her.
Shadowheart, staring at Death Darren running towards her and Tavi, considers her options. She’s no longer Nauseous so she has her actions back. She can’t see Karlach in the fog, so she can’t cast Lesser Restoration to remove the paralysis. Gale considers that the fog cloud may have been a mistake. Shadowheart casts a 2nd level Blindness spell at Death Darren and moves further back. It’s not a concentration spell, so the Beacon of Hope remains in effect.
The fog still doesn’t help, because Karlach takes two successive critical hits from Death Drusilla for another 14 damage. She’s losing hit points quickly, and she’s still paralyzed. The Ghast claws Karlach for another 8 points of critical hit damage. Thank god for barbarian rage or Karlach would have been dead long ago.
That first wounded Ghoul, who is still quite alive, rushes away from Karlach into the back lines as well, joining Death Darren.
Round 5, The Fireball
Tavi worries a lot about Karlach going down. The barbarian only has 13 hit points left. She moves forward a little to get in range and tries to cast a Healing Word, but the fog prevents her from seeing Karlach. She glares at Gale. Instead, Tavi tries another Tasha’s Hideous Laughter on the approaching Death Shepherd, and it fails again. Three in a row now. Another wasted spell slot.
Things are looking grim. A Ghoul claws at Karlach. It’s another automatic critical hit because she’s still paralyzed. Then, Death Darren senses an opportunity, abandons running toward Shadowheart and Tavi, and returns to hit Karlach with two more greatsword critical hits, downing her in the middle of the fog cloud.
Gale ponders his life choices. Maybe that fog cloud didn’t help. Maybe he needs to make up for it. The undead are probably going to keep hitting Karlach on the ground until she’s dead. Bold, decisive action must be taken. Gale drops the fog cloud, then throws a 3rd level Fireball right where the cloud used to be, centered roughly where Karlach lies in the road, using one of his three 3rd level spell slots.
It works. Three Ghouls are instantly incinerated for about 30 hit points of fire damage, so they won’t be hitting Karlach anymore. The Ghast and both Death Shepherds also take half of that damage, too.
Karlach takes no damage because Gale has a Wizard feat which prevents his spells from hurting friendlies.
Shadowheart casts a second-level Healing Word on Karlach, restoring the full 11 hit points. (Beacon of Hope is still in effect, even though the game says she’s not concentrating on it anymore, and weirdly says each party member has a different number of turns remaining on it. I think there’s some bugginess with that spell.)
Karlach’s turn is simultaneous with Shadowheart and Gale, so after Shadowheart’s Healing Word, she stands up and drinks a Potion of Greater Healing, restoring 20 more hit points and returning her to nearly half health. She doesn’t have an action, though, since, for some reason, players don’t get an action after they stand up from being downed, which seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Anyway, she tries to move away and takes 11 hit points from one attack of opportunity, and wonders why she did that. It won’t be the first time she does something like that.
Shadowheart, continuing her simultaneous turn, has an action left, so she casts a Blade Ward cantrip on Karlach to protect her from further harm. Then she realized that Blade Ward only affects the caster, not a target. Oopsie.
Now the undead take their turns. The Fireball was only a temporary respite, because Death Drusilla, as expected, casts No Rest for the Wicked to raise one Ghoul back to life. Gale chooses not to Counterspell, to save his third-level spell slots for when it matters most.
Then Death Drusilla demonstrates that restoring undead to full health doesn’t even use up an action, by running at Karlach and hitting once for 11 hit points, and a second time for 14 hit points, downing the tiefling again. (Without Rage, she doesn’t take half damage anymore.) The Ghast then claws at Karlach’s body, gets an automatic critical hit, and causes her to fail two death saving throws immediately.
Karlach is in big trouble.
Round 6, The Ghouls Are Back
Things are looking bleak. Karlach is one death saving throw away from full death. The Death Shepherds are raising the dead Ghouls back to unlife. They still have a lot of health left.
Tavi casts a third-level Plant Growth in the area of all the undead, to try to hinder them from reaching the rest of the party, then casts a bonus action Healing Word at second-level on Karlach to restore the full 11 hit points, thanks to the Beacon of Hope. Karlach stands up again.
Death Darren uses its turn to raise a second dead Ghoul with No Rest for the Wicked, but at least it doesn’t hit Karlach.
Gale can’t do much except try to cast another Fire Bolt cantrip from the back, but it’s at disadvantage because of a “too dark” effect that makes no sense whatsoever, because it’s broad daylight. It misses, of course, because all attacks at disadvantage are statistically guaranteed to miss.
Another Ghoul runs up and hits the badly wounded Karlach for 5 points of damage, and she’s barely standing. Karlach fails a Nausea save from the nearby Ghast and can’t use an action on her turn.
Shadowheart casts a third-level Healing Word on Karlach and restores 15 hit points. With her action, she tries to get back to the plan of whittling down the Death Shepherds by casting a Fire Bolt cantrip at Death Darren and does 11 hit points of fire damage. After this and the Fireball, it now has 17 hit points remaining, the most wounded of the two.
With no actions, Karlach can’t do much, and she only has a few hit points left. She can either stay where she is and get pummeled by undead, or try to move away and get pummeled by undead. She tries to move, takes 3 immediate attacks of opportunity, is paralyzed, and goes down again in a heap.
Death Drusilla then raises the third dead Ghoul, and all three Ghouls that had been killed by Gale’s Fireball are back again. Having finished that, the Death Sheperd leaves Karlach’s body and dashes fully into the squishy back lines toward Gale, hitting him once for 10 hit points of damage. The Ghast also runs into the back lines toward Shadowheart and attempts a claw attack, but luckily misses.
Round 7, Missed Opportunity
The front lines are in shambles, Karlach is down again, and the undead are all up in the party’s back lines.
Death Darren is badly wounded, but Death Drusilla still has most of its hit points.
Tavi notices the Plant Growth hasn’t worked to hinder the enemies, and nobody else is doing any damage, so she hatches a plan to start whittling down the other Death Shepherd by casting Heat Metal (a favorite spell of mine) at third level on Death Drusilla, who is still looming over Gale. It doesn’t drop its sword, but it takes a big 21 points of fire damage, leaving it with only 19 hit points. And that spell remains in effect as long as Tavi keeps concentrating on it, so it will do damage on subsequent turns, too. With her bonus action, Tavi casts a second-level Healing Word on Karlach, restoring 11 hit points (again). Karlach stands up again, saved from a fatality for yet another turn. Tavi has been burning spell slots like crazy, and now only has one 3rd level spell slot remaining, and runs further away.
A Ghoul tries to claw at Karlach but misses. Death Darren inexplicably doesn’t try to attack Karlach on its turn. Random luck, I suppose.
Incidentally, a big section of the road is now on fire from the Fireball, and the undead are taking a few points of additional fire damage now and then from that.
Gale has two third-level spell slots remaining. The first Fireball worked well, and there’s another opportunity here. With Death Drusilla standing in his face, he slides around to get a better angle without taking an opportunity attack, and throws a Fireball in Karlach’s vicinity, where the Ghouls and a badly hurt Death Shepherd are clumped.
Death Darren fails its saving throw and is killed by 24 points of fire damage, along with one of the Ghouls. Now only two Ghouls, a Ghast, and the second Death Shepherd remain standing. Karlach still takes no damage, thanks to Gale’s handy wizard feat. Gale drinks a small healing potion with his bonus action.
Now the real fight begins.
Death Drusilla’s turn is coming up, and it will certainly try to raise the Death Shepherd that just died back with full hit points. The party has to stop that. Gale has one third-level spell slot remaining and stands ready to Counterspell it with his reaction.
Karlach is Nauseous from the Ghast and can’t use an action. She’s been out of this fight for a while now. She begins Raging with her bonus action, hoping to take half damage from any attacks. It’s all she can do. This time, the Wild Magic effect is damaging tendrils, but almost everyone succeeds on the saving throw. She tries to move away from the Ghouls, but takes a hit and is paralyzed again. Arg!
Only Shadowheart and Gale’s Counterspell can stop the Death Shepherd from casting the resurrection now. Shadowheart trusts that Gale can deal with the Death Shepherd, and casts Lesser Restoration on Karlach to dispel the paralysis, but it’s a touch spell and there’s a Ghast right in her face! She has to run away from it and take an attack of opportunity, which could paralyze her too.
The Ghast misses, and Shadowheart escapes to dispel Karlach’s paralysis. Whew! That would have been a disaster. Karlach is no longer paralyzed, or nauseous, and Shadowheart does a bonus action Healing Word to restore 4 more hit points to Karlach. (The Beacon of Hope has ended.)
Karlach has movement remaining, so she runs up to Death Drusilla, preparing for the next round. If nothing else, she’ll get an attack of opportunity if it tries to move.
The battlefield is a shambles, everything’s on fire, but the situation is under control. Gale still has a Counterspell, which is vitally important to stop Death Drusilla from raising Death Darren with its upcoming turn. Karlach will get her actions back and be able to go a long way toward killing Death Drusilla next round. Nothing could go wrong now, right?
In a surprise move, Death Drusilla runs from Gale and Karlach and tries to get away. Gale has a chance to do an opportunity attack, and the game pops up the dialog asking if I want to do so.
Then, out of nowhere, the game glitches out, and the graphics go all weird and flashy, and I’m staring at a very distracting strobe light effect while deciding on whether to do an opportunity attack. I’ve never seen this before in 80+ hours of gameplay.
I take the opportunity attack without thinking, and it’s a CRUCIAL BONEHEAD MISTAKE, in all caps, with exclamation points. Gale misses the attack, but Karlach also gets an attack of opportunity and does 12 points of damage to the escaping Death Shepherd. It only has a few hit points left, but it’s still alive.
While the graphics are having a full-on meltdown– strobing and flashing all over the place, and I’m frantically quicksaving, thinking the game is about to hard crash to the desktop–Death Drusilla casts No Rest for the Wicked and raises Death Darren, with full hit points. I didn’t even notice it.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when Gale used his reaction to do that opportunity attack, he threw away his chance to do a Counterspell to stop the resurrection.
When the graphics clear up enough that I can even see what’s going on, a Ghast has jumped over and paralyzed Gale to add even further insult to injury.
Round 8, The Sheep
I still think things are under control in this fight. I’m thankful the game hasn’t crashed, and I’m still able to continue without having to reboot.
Tavi still has the Heat Metal applied to Death Drusilla, who only has a few hit points left now, and re-applies the damage with a bonus action. It does 14 fire damage and kills Death Drusilla just like that.
And I’m celebrating, because I think both Death Shepherds are dead now, and the rest of the fight will be easy.
Then I see it.
Death Darren is back in the initiative order with full health.
It fully sinks in what an idiotic move it was to take that opportunity attack, and how it led directly to this disaster. At this point, it’s been almost an hour since I began, and I’m just catching on to the fact that I’m nearly back where I started.
I’m not pleased about this development. I’m extremely disheartened, you might say. Not only am I probably going to have to reload and try this fight again, but it wasn’t because of some random dice roll, it was entirely because I made a careless mistake.
Instead of being in a fantastic position to win the fight with both Death Shepherds dead, the party was in a dire predicament with one Death Shepherd still alive with all their hit points, standing by and ready to resurrect the other. Karlach is nearly dead, and Gale is paralyzed. There’s no way we’re going to win this fight now.
Never have I wished to be able to save scum more. But the quicksave I did was after the mistake. (I rarely quicksave during combat encounters anyway.)
After refreshing the Heat Metal, Tavi still has an action remaining on her turn. She had to stop Death Darren from returning the favor and resurrecting Death Drusilla for the party to have any chance of surviving. Death Darren’s turn is right after hers.
Tavi digs through her inventory and casts a desperation Polymorph from a scroll on Death Darren. It works! The last Death Shepherd turns into a harmless sheep for five turns. That just left a horde of paralyzing Ghouls and that pesky Ghast over by Gale and Karlach.
One remaining Ghoul runs up and hits Shadowheart for 5 points of damage, but she’s still fairly healthy. The Polymorphed sheep runs for Shadowheart, and there’s some concern it might get hurt in some environmental damage on the battlefield, but the fires have died down and, importantly, it stays a sheep.
The situation is this: After the Fireballs and the leftover fires, there are two Ghouls left; one has 7 hit points, the other has 4 hit points. The Ghast has 32 hit points left. Death Darren is a sheep. Shadowheart’s and Karlach’s turns are coming up, but Gale is paralyzed.
The Ghast is the biggest threat on the battlefield, so Shadowheart finds a scroll of Banishment in her inventory and casts it. (Something I used in the previous attempt at this fight.) The Ghast is banished and won’t be able to afflict anyone with Nausea, but only for two turns. Shadowheart runs away so nobody can break concentration on the Banish. She casts a bonus action Healing Word on Karlach.
Karlach is finally able to do something on her turn. She pops an Infernal Coin into her Infernal Engine, for the first time. I have no idea what it’s going to do, but this seems like a great time to find out. We have to win this battle, we’ve never had a better chance, and if we don’t, we’ll just end up reloading anyway. The coin sets her on fire, so she does a little bit of extra fire damage from Infernal Fury. A little disappointing, to be honest.
Only the two Ghouls and a sheep are left on the battlefield. She can’t hit the sheep, obviously, so she decides to get rid of those Ghouls. She attacks one, and misses, but with a Reckless attack, gets to reroll with advantage, so she hits and kills it. She runs to the other Ghoul. (The sheep gets an opportunity attack and hits her for 1 hit point of damage.) With her second attack, Karlach slashes the second Ghoul and kills it, too.
And suddenly Karlach’s doing a lot more damage, as if the undead aren’t resistant anymore. I don’t know if it’s from the Infernal Coin, or because the Death Shepherds aren’t doing their undead protection thing anymore, but it’s a welcome surprise.
Gale remains paralyzed, but since Death Darren is still a sheep, he doesn’t need to Counterspell anything.
Things are looking good again. The pendulum has swung back. It’s still possible to win this fight. Death Darren isn’t going to resurrect anyone, the Ghast is banished, and all the Ghouls are dead. There’s no fear of paralysis or nausea, Karlach can attack and possibly kill Death Darren in the next round, Gale will come out of paralysis, and he’ll be able to Counterspell any attempts to raise Death Drusilla.
Round 9, Not So Fast
Tavi has one 3rd level spell slot remaining. With her bonus action, she casts a Healing Word to heal Karlach for a lucky 11 hit points, giving her a total of 32 hit points. She continues to concentrate on Polymorph so Death Darren stays a sheep and can’t do anything on its turn.
Death Darren Sheep just sits there by itself.
The Ghast is still banished. Gale comes out of paralysis and moves away from the cloud of fumes. Unfortunately, he’s still Nauseous, so he can’t use an action. But that’s okay because for what we’re about to do, we’ll only need him to do a reaction.
The plan is for Shadowheart to cast a Fire Bolt on the sheep to knock it out of Polymorph, then for Karlach to attack with two big swings from the Blooded Greataxe. The Fire Bolt does 11 points of damage. The Death Shepherd has 46 hit points left, and I groan because that’s probably more than Karlach can dish out in one turn.
Karlach considers dropping rage and using a Legacy of Avernus Searing Smite ability because it does a ton of damage and potentially does fire damage every following turn. But, dropping rage uses a bonus action, and the Legacy of Avernus abilities require an action and a bonus action, so she can’t. She can only take two regular attacks. She goes Reckless to gain advantage on these attacks because we don’t want to miss now. She hits for 20 damage on the first attack, and 21 damage on the second attack, which is at least twice as much damage as I expected to do. Are they no longer resisting slashing damage? Is it a weird bug? Who knows? But I’ll take it. She drinks a healing potion with her bonus action.
But it’s still not quite enough. Death Darren still has 5 hit points remaining, but nobody can do any more damage. Shadowheart has a bonus action left and does another Healing Word on Karlach to give her as much chance of staying alive as possible.
We’re still in a good position, because Gale can Counterspell anything that Death Darren tries to do next round.
Then the wild card Ghast’s banishment ends. It runs straight for Gale, hits him for 12 points of damage, and more importantly, paralyzes him, stopping any possibility of doing a final Counterspell against the Death Shepherd.
Round 10, 5 HP or Else
The battle teeters on a razor’s edge. Death Darren’s turn is coming up right after Tavi’s, and it will surely cast No Rest for the Wicked and raise Death Drusilla again, with full hit points, sending us right back to square one and an almost certain TPK.
The Death Shepherd only has 5 hit points left. Tavi has to find a way to do 5 hit points of damage or it’s game over. Again. For, like, the third time in this fight.
This was it. This was the end. Clawing and scratching for well over an hour of fighting now, almost all the enemies were dead, but we were probably still going to lose if this Death Shepherd managed to cast a resurrection on the other Death Shepherd.
Tavi desperately thumbs through her collection of scrolls for anything that does a minimum of 5 hit points of damage, because she’s too far away to do a melee attack, she has no spell slots left, and doesn’t have any reliable damage spells anyway.
Melf’s Acid Arrow looks promising, but for some reason, the Death Shepherd was “too dark” (standing outside in full daylight) so all ranged attacks will have disadvantage, and that’s a statistically guaranteed miss.
The only other option is an Ice Storm scroll, an area of effect spell that would not suffer disadvantage. She was able to line up the targeting circle so it would hit the Death Shepherd and the Ghast, but not Tavi or Karlach. Fingers crossed!
Both of the enemies made their saving throw, but it worked anyway! Death Darren dies, again, and the Ghast takes a big chunk of damage, too.
Everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. It’s over.
Except it isn’t. The last Ghast still has 20 hit points left, and Ghasts are no joke. Gale’s still paralyzed, and the party’s nearly out of resources. But surely, in a three-on-one scenario, we can finish it off. Surely?
It’s not a promising start to the end of the fight. Karlach leaps over to the Ghast to try to finish it, right into the ghastly fumes, where she immediately succumbs to Nausea, and can’t take any action. She tries to back away from the fumes and takes a hit from an attack of opportunity.
Shadowheart casts a Fire Bolt, but it’s at disadvantage because the Ghast is “too dark,” for mysterious reasons. She misses. She casts a bonus action Healing Word on Gale because he’s hurt badly.
Gale remains paralyzed, and the Ghast lives to fight another round.
Shadowheart’s Healing Word was timely, because the Ghast hits Gale with an automatic critical hit, nearly downing him, then walks over to Tavi and covers her with the noxious fumes that prevent her from using any actions.
Round 11, The Last Ghast
The last Ghast is proving stubbornly difficult to kill. Tavi can’t use any actions on her turn. She tries to run away and takes an attack of opportunity. She has no spell slots left to cast any bonus actions, and can’t do anything else.
Gale returns from paralysis, but he’s nauseous from the Ghast’s stench and can’t use any actions. He moves away and drinks his last healing potion with his bonus action. The hope is that if the party spreads out, the Ghast will have to pick only one party member to affect with its noxious fumes, and the rest can kill it.
Karlach lost her Rage on the previous turn because she wasn’t able to hit anyone. Staying back to avoid the noxious ghast fumes, she fires a crossbow shot with her first attack but misses.
It’s starting to get comical now. The party can’t kill one Ghast.
With her second attack coming up, Karlach realizes she can use a Legacy of Avernus Searing Smite now. Hoping not to run into any ghastly fumes, she takes a chance and runs up to smite the Ghast. This is the last attack before the next round, where the Ghast will get another turn.
Karlach misses. Arg!
But she gets a chance to use a Reckless attack and rolls again.
And hits! She does 29 total damage in one massive strike, fueled by the infernal fury of Avernus, or something like that, and it’s enough to kill the Ghast.
It took three tries, and almost an hour and a half in the third one, but the road is finally cleared.
The accursed resurrecting Death Shepherds and their accursed paralyzing undead friends are gone.
It’s one of those victory moments where you do the fist pumps and celebrate like you’ve just won the World Cup finals. It’s a victory as satisfying as any Dark Souls boss fight I’ve ever experienced.
And it wasn’t even a boss. Just some undead on the road. Sheesh.
But it was the hardest fight in the game so far for me, not counting the Grymforge cave-in, which, after 4 tries, I assessed as unwinnable without extensive turn-by-turn save scumming.
But yeah, watch out for those Death Shepherds.
P.S. I didn’t really edit this so it’s probably got tons of mistakes in it.
P.P.S. This is a revised and expanded version published on 8/30, which fixes most of the mistakes and adds another 1,200 words of additional context.