Thanks to @jackwarg for this art piece!
- First Appearance: 22 AraMente to Pyrah
- Encounter Appearance: 79 Thordak
- Armor Class 23 (22 without crystal)
- Speed 40 ft, 80 ft flying
- Blindsight 60 ft, Darkvision 120 ft, Passive 26 (+16)
- Immune to fire damage
- Lair and Legendary Actions
- Legendary Resistance (3/day)
- Suggested Average, Max Damage: 546, 812
- Total Damage Taken: ~1452 (1404 confirmed, 48 estimated)
- ~1099 taken with crystal, 16 finishing blow by Vex’ahlia
- 353 taken without crystal, 31 HDYWTDT by Vax'ildan
Thordak, The Cinder King
Thordak used 9 out of 15 possible Legendary Actions, 4 out of 5 possible Lair Actions, and all three of his Legendary Resistances. In the first round, the only action he took was his fire breath. It was not until the second round that he brought out his full fury, including his Frightening Presence. Round 2 was also the only round in which he used all three of his available Legendary Actions for the round. (It should be noted that all of his legendary actions required him to be in melee range, making his decision to not use all of them every round necessary in favor of flying out of range of retribution.)
As his health waned, his sanity (or lack thereof) also showed itself. Whereas the previous dragons fought in their lair demonstrated the inability to grasp their own mortality even at the point of the killing blow (see Rimefang and Umbrasyl), Thordak had the comfort of the Soul Anchor to drive him. With it gone, the rest of his body began to crumble after his mind.
The Soul Anchor
Allura informed the party that her party had succeeded in trapping Thordak into the Plane of Fire using the Soul Anchor. Raishan informed Vox Machina that she was responsible for the magic that allowed Thordak to take the anchor with him inside his own chest. This anchor enhanced his size (colossal from gargantuan), armor class (23 from 22), and abilities (4-pronged from 3-pronged multiattack), in exchange for his sanity. Thordak’s Con Save (+16), fire breath DC, lair action DCs, and post-crystal AC otherwise all shared that of a Monster Manual ancient red.
Matt confirmed that the Soul Anchor came with its own Regeneration ability for its duration, though we have no indication how much it contributed to Thordak’s health pool. Matt also confirmed that anyone within 10 feet of Thordak on the dragon’s turn would have also taken additional fire damage, but with the combination of moving out of melee range for fire breaths and using wing attacks to escape, this rarely came into effect.
The Soul Anchor also served as a secondary health bar. It remained hidden until Gilmore disintegrated Thordak’s chest in the third round, and was shattered in the fourth round by Vex’s Arrow of Dragon Slaying (the same she reserved specifically to avenge her mother). With the crystal destroyed, Thordak shrunk back down from a Colossal Ancient Red Dragon to a textbook Gargantuan Ancient Red Dragon.
Thanks to @tresselorner for this art piece!
Collectively, the twins dealt 566 damage to Thordak (218 by Vex, 348 by Vax). Vax’s deadly multi-class in Vengeance paladin and rogue, combined with the Longsword of Dragon Slaying, resulted in a huge chunk of damage. His wings allowed him to dart both into range with Thordak and back out with little fear of retribution. Vex’s use of the Boots of Haste allowed her to strategically move around the battlefield and position herself as needed. Narratively speaking, Vex also served the important role of destroying the Soul Stone, knocking Thordak down a peg both in size and ability.
Although he may have been frustrated by Thordak’s insistence to keep out of melee range, Grog served as the group’s meat shield in the first three rounds. He absorbed a total of 177 points of damage from Thordak, not including the 93 points of physical damage he didn’t take thanks to his rage. Despite being out of reach for most of the battle, he still made the most of his attacks of opportunity and the Chain of Returning to deal a total of 270 damage to the Cinder King.
While Grog served as Thordak’s punching bag, the gunslinger formed the barrier between the party and the assaults from Thordak’s support. Percy still focused his attacks on Thordak for 141 damage against the dragon, but in turn took the brunt of the attacks from the fire elemental (13 damage) and the fire giant (58 damage). While 71 is fairly trivial compared to Thordak’s fire breath, Percy taking damage from Thordak’s underlings allowed the much squishier surrounding members to focus on strategy against the dragon.
Although Keyleth’s first two rounds proved lackluster from an offensive stance, her positioning ensured she avoided Thordak’s fire breath. This enabled her to spend her Healing Word on Grog rather than herself, save her damage-absorbing beast shape (of which she still has both uses), and still have enough health to withstand a post-Thordak Meteor Swarm. Additionally, she was responsible for clearing out the invading fire elementals before she forced Thordak to burn his second legendary resistance.
Scanlan fit himself where he needed to for each round of the battle. He strategically used Cutting Words to force Thordak into disadvantage for upcoming saving throws, turned his attention to the encroaching fire elementals when needed, passed a healing potion to Pike, and put both lightning and a Bigby’s Hand to use against the big guy when possible.
Kima and Pike were the party’s healers. Pike’s early Beacon of Hope kept Grog’s health up high, as well as granted a little extra health to allow Gilmore and Jarett to stay up for just a bit longer. Pike’s Healing Word gave small boosts to Percy, Grog, and Gilmore, but brought Jarett back from the brink of death. In the last two rounds, Pike managed to enter the fray offensively with a Guiding Bolt and her Mace of Disruption. Kima’s inability to reach anything to hit ensured that she spent the entire encounter against Thordak keeping Gilmore alive. Only after the red dragon fell did she finally make use of her Holy Avenger sword against the up-to-that-point unscathed fire giant.
Jarett was more of a liability than an asset, but he did serve as the representation of the state of the battle. Although his crossbow dealt very little damage when he did hit and he spent most of the battle frightened or burning to death, he did manage to chip in approximately 36 total damage and an additional 22 to a wyvern.
While we still don’t know what happened to Larkin, Raishan waited to make her appearance for the second round. Compared to Thordak’s 9/15 Legendary Action ratio, Raishan used only 3/12 of her own legendary actions (2 to cast Blight in Round 2, 1 to make a melee attack to finish a wyvern in Round 3). Her breath attack (to which the party was fully immune) was available two out of four rounds, and was used both times against the Cinder King (although his +16 Constitution saved against it for half damage).
It should especially be noted that Raishan kept her distance from Thordak throughout the entire battle. Her two poison breaths, Blight spell, and Chain Lightning spell (which, by now, most people have seen only affects those the user chooses) all afforded her room to stay above him. Since his fire breath would have been reserved specifically for targeting a large group, the only way he would have dealt damage to her was in direct melee. Additionally, when she was limited to physical attacks, she focused on the weaker wyvern targets with her (textbook) three-pronged multiattack. It was not until after Thordak’s fall would she take her first points of damage. (We’ll save the rest of her analysis for a later battle!)
Thanks to @_CraigNicholson for this art piece!
Because EVERYTHING is Happening Right Now
It should be noted that the DM alone was managing no fewer than 10 NPCs and a skyship for this battle, to say nothing of the war raging outside the lair. It should also be remembered that the three hours, five minutes, and 56 seconds we all watched against the Cinder King occurred in under five rounds, supposedly fewer than 30 seconds. That’s not including the additional three rounds (and the latter half of the fifth round) of cleanup on the battlefield (another 37 minutes and 46 seconds), or the transition from one dragon battle to another.
The first round served to present Thordak as the threat he has always been. Higher than average armor class (augmented by the Soul Anchor), ridiculously high attributes (that come with simply being an ancient dragon), and a devastating fire breath attack (which took Trinket out of combat) all suitably destroyed morale. The casters initially found their spells ineffective, the ranged attackers chipped in what damage they could, and the melee combatants were forced to prepare themselves for when they could actually get close enough to attack.
Consider that by round 2, the momentum picked up, and EVERYTHING began to happen at once. Thordak stepped up his game by implementing lair actions, all three of his legendary actions, his Frightful Presence aura, and an augmented 4-phase multiattack against Grog (ancients are usually limited to three). In the same six seconds, Raishan appeared to blast Thordak with poison breath and use two legendary actions to cast Blight against him, two fire elementals entered the fray, and the Deera flew overhead, firing at wyverns and dragon alike.
This is completely ignoring the players’ turns, or those of Jarett, Gilmore, and Kima. All of this supposedly happened in six in-game seconds, with Matthew Mercer balancing all of it. Thordak presented a legitimate threat and presented true terror. And, even in death, he set up the party for yet another difficult battle, one surrounded by a war continuing in the Cinder King’s absence.