Monster Analysis: Sylas Briarwood (Dalen’s Closet)

  • First Appearance: 1-24 The Feast

  • Encounter Appearance: Dalen’s Closet

  • Armor Class 21

  • Darkvision 120 ft, Passive 17

  • Speed 30 ft, 30 ft flying (bat form), 20 ft flying (mist form)

  • Resistant to necrotic and nonmagical weapon damage

  • 293+ damage taken, 30 HDYWTDT by Vex’ahlia

    • Healed 22 points from Regeneration

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a widower vampire in possession of a great anger must be in want of revenge. However little known the feelings or views of such a vampire may be on his first entering a wedding rehearsal, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding vampires, that he is considered as the rightful owner of one death or more of Vox Machina.

Vengeance: Best Served Chilled and Aerated

Let’s start by getting into the head of Sylas Briarwood. You’re a powerful and feared monster who has encountered this group of intrepid adventurers multiple times. The first time you encountered them, they nearly knocked you unconscious, but you had your badass wife there to help you escape while the “heroes” dealt with the political turmoil in your wake.

You met them again on your home territory. Together, you and your wife were prepared, and were quite a threat… but still failed to defeat Vox Machina, even after charming one party member, using a turncoat ally against them, and dipping most of them in acid before combat even began. You were evaporated out of existence. This was when your foes were at level 12.

You were brought back by the grace of the archlich-turned-god that initially raised you from the dead and your wife’s second clone. You tried again. You had your wife on your side, riding atop terrifying flying steed, and your rivals had been softened up by a treacherous climb. It goes even worse than the last time: your wife’s last clone was killed by Vex’ahlia, and you managed to only deal 7 damage before Vex’ahlia forced you into mist form. You retreated to reform and plot your revenge.

In the interim, Vox Machina got stronger. They defeated your patron, a brand new god, and traveled to face threats on other planes that would turn lesser mortals to ash at first contact. Although you’ve gained some HP, in terms of offensive abilities, you’re practically only as powerful as you were when you first met them. It’s not power to laugh at, but in a straight fight, level 20 heroes aren’t even fazed by a vampire anymore. And, let’s be honest, Delilah was always the bigger threat. So how do you even the odds, bring them down a level?

By bringing them down to level.

  • Reduce their hit points. The poison not only took almost everyone out of commission, but also reduced those who failed to 0 hit points without lifting a finger. In Vex’ahlia’s case (who has the lowest max HP of the party), that’s a 143 point attack. Even after they woke, everyone came back with only one hit point, requiring the spellcasters to spend time casting healing spells that they could have spent dashing to their friends’ aid. Even after healing, that still brings most of the party below their comfortable triple digits.

  • Reduce their attack options. Because who brings weapons to a wedding? Can’t do much about Grog or the spell casters, but Percy and Vex’ahlia would be severely limited by their lack of equipment.

  • Reduce the number of combatants. Once the poison kicked in, Sylas was able to isolate and manacle Percy and Vex without fear of being caught.

  • Increase your party size. Sylas swooped into Shamal Bay with seven vampires, which would have outnumbered Vox Machina had Derrig not been in attendance.

Sylas’ plan for retribution was theoretically solid. He and his cadre of vampire spawn were somehow able to able to sneak the poisoned wine into the event (the event staff has some ‘splainin to do after the wedding), wait until nightfall for the wedding party to succumb, and then stage their attack. While the few conscious members of the party tried to make sense of what was going on, Sylas and Vampire Crew 2 (Retribution Boogaloo) captured their primary targets and absconded. Sylas got to make his relatively practical Retribution Speech at Vex and Percy and dramatically throw them off a cliff.

Best Laid Plans of Bats and Bereaved

In practice, Sylas’ plan was heavy on the immediate need for revenge, but clearly not well thought-through. 

  • Nearly everyone fell unconscious to the poison, yes, but the poison didn’t kill them outright. It gave everyone the chance to get knocked down, but then get up again. (You’re never gonna keep them down.)

  • Vox Machina is full of high-level spellcasters who have no need for physical weapons. And what’s a 4th level Mass Healing Word when you have 21 other spell slots at your disposal? Or being able to successfully direct the divine will of a god? Or can turn into dragons and beholders and planetars at will? Or literally bend reality to your will with a Wish?!

  • Sylas knew that Vox Machina had Pike who could bring back Percy and Vex in literally twelve seconds. He knew, and still thought he could get away with killing them. Maybe he thought it would take longer to find them?

  • He thought he could get away with killing them and poisoning their friends with non-lethal poison and then stick around Shamal Bay with his vampire friends to... see the aftermath? Have a nice cliffside picnic? Gloat? If they weren’t looking to get misted, they sure did a good job of ensuring that it happened anyway.

  • Grog Strongjaw took 229 damage from Sylas and his Gang and still had more hit points left than Level 10 Caleb Widogast has total.

The absolute best case Sylas could have hoped for was Vex or Percy’s permanent death, and escape. Even in all his power and with the full backing of his cadre, Sylas was blinded in his rage, his brief cheap victory over the happy couple, and the even briefer overwhelming numbers against Grog Strongjaw. Pouring damage into the walking tank only bought time for the rest of the party to swoop in to finish the job they were unable to do so back in Thar Amphala.

Additionally, Vox Machina’s most powerful assets were always each other. When Percy saw that his hands were completely tied (literally and figuratively) and couldn’t save Vex, he relied on the most powerful tool at his disposal: calling for help. Keyleth and Pike immediately supported Vex, Scanlan supported Percy, and Derrig threw in his support to Grog. Even with Vex feeling weaponless, she relied on Pike to provide her the weapon that would finish Sylas Briarwood.

And don’t even get us started on the multiple sources of radiant blessings that are the bane of vampires. Between Keyleth’s arch-druidic mastery, Pike’s direct connection to the Everlight, and Vex’s championship of the Dawnfather, three members of Vox Machina literally have the power to channel the sun itself in the dead of night. Sylas was going to lose no matter what, even if he managed to escape yet again.

All Good Things

Now, let’s be fair to the DM: the stakes absolutely were raised. There was urgency, there was panic, there was a mass set of KOs, and Vex DIED. Yes, the party had a second chance to resurrect Vex had the Revivify failed, and Sylas would not have gone down as easily with the party having to wait bring Vex back. Had her death been permanent, this epilogue would have been a significantly darker conclusion to Vox Machina’s tale.

But even considering that everything went “well,” Matt set up a conclusion for the party, and the dice told the poetry we’ve come to expect them to. Vex’ahlia became the only member of Vox Machina to gain the HDYWTDT on both Sylas and Delilah Briarwood, closing their threat against her family, the de Rolo lineage, permanently.

Even with the multitude of flaws in Sylas’s plan, he left an impact on the wedding party. Enjoy eternity in whatever lower plane your soul now haunts, Sylas. You’ve been mist, but you won’t be missed.