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SPOILERS BELOW

The first time I had a group of players face Strahd, it was c. 1988 and we were playing 1e with the original I6 Ravenloft. The PC's quickly found their way to the lowest level of the castle, eventually found the crypts and destroyed Strahd's coffin, and then spent hours with Strahd sniping at them and regenerating before they were finally able to corner him. Reduced to 0hp and without a coffin to retreat to, I ruled that he had been destroyed.

The next time was in 2016 in a 5e game, but just before the release of Curse of Strahd. I used the original I6 and an online fan conversion for 5e. That time, the PCs ventured to the crypts but quickly retreated after a number of them were charmed by Strahd. They later holed up in a room that Strahd could only enter or leave in mist form, and when he entered they cast moonbeam to force him out of mist form and daylight to damage him until he died. Given the description of vampiric mists in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, I ruled that at 0hp, unable to regenerate and unable to return to his intact coffin, Strahd was destroyed.

My most recent game just concluded, running Curse of Strahd. This played out very similarly to the first time, except that the players found his coffin even more quickly (it really is ridiculously easy to find, if you think about a sensible layout for a castle). They destroyed the coffin by pouring most of the holy water that Ezmerelda carried into the grave dirt within it. A similar sniping game as the first time ensued, with Strahd removing one of the party's Fortunes and other helpful items each time he attacked, until he grew too bold and was reduced to 0hp without a coffin to return to. Again, I ruled that he had been destroyed.

It was only after I had wrapped up the game that I realized the book says (emphasis mine):

When Strahd is reduced to 0 hit points, he turns to mist and retreats to his coffin (see the Misty Escape feature in his stat block). The vampire must be in his resting place to be utterly destroyed.

If the characters finish off Strahd in his coffin, read:

I would like to run Curse again, but am confused about how to proceed. Judging by the text of the module, what should have happened to Strahd if his coffin was destroyed and then he was reduced to 0hp? Or, does the module assume that it is not possible to destroy the coffin? What should happen to Strahd if his coffin is intact but he is unable to return to it at 0hp?

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This is explained in Strahd's Misty Escape feature.

Misty Escape says:

When Strahd drops to 0 hit points outside his coffin, he transforms into a cloud of mist (as in the Shapechanger trait) instead of falling unconscious, provided that he isn’t in running water or sunlight. If he can’t transform, he is destroyed.

While he has 0 hit points in mist form, he can’t revert to his vampire form, and he must reach his coffin within 2 hours or be destroyed. Once in his coffin, he reverts to his vampire form. He is then paralyzed until he regains at least 1 hit point. After 1 hour in his coffin with 0 hit points, he regains 1 hit point.

We can answer all of your questions using the text of this feature. In particular, Misty Escape states:

When Strahd drops to 0 hit points outside his coffin, he transforms into a cloud of mist (as in the Shapechanger trait) instead of falling unconscious [...] While he has 0 hit points in mist form, he can’t revert to his vampire form, and he must reach his coffin within 2 hours or be destroyed.

[Thomas' commentary: Therefore, if the coffin is destroyed, Strahd will be destroyed 2 hours after he is reduced to 0 hp. If his coffin is intact and he is unable to return to his coffin within 2 hours, he is destroyed.]

This does seem contradictory to the quote from the Epilogue section "Strahd Dies", but the Misty Escape feature is clear that Strahd can die outside of his coffin.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While this is a possible resolution, I note that the misty escape trait appears to be taken word for word from the template within a standard vampire stat block, with the only change being "it" [the vampire] replaced with "Strahd". The Epilogue, on the other hand, was specifically written for Strahd, for the module. Wouldn't that supercede what is given in misty escape as a case of specific over general? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt May 24 at 18:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt I don't think that's how specific-beats-general works. I think the more likely explanation is that the writers are just assuming the coffin is still there. I've run the module once and read it several times, I don't recall the coffin's destruction being considered anywhere. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov May 24 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Further, since the Epilogue specifically references the misty escape feature, with the principle of 'read the entire passage as one rule', that might also argue that "must be within his coffin to be utterly destroyed" is informed by and takes account of what is in the misty escape and supersedes it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt May 24 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that the DMG (246) lists a vampire's coffin as being one of three examples of objects that characters might need to destroy! Even if the writers missed this, the misty step ability specifically references what happens when Strahd is unable to reach his coffin, so I would hope that was considered. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt May 29 at 22:06

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