I am nothing if not predictable, so it's time for another short story inspired by a D&D campaign. One that I ran a long time ago.
These stories are a fun creative outlet for me, a way to channel some of my wordier aspects towards a meaningful end. You know, before the inevitable cessation of life that waits for us all.
Hmmm, that got dark surprisingly quickly.
Relevant though, because sometimes player characters die and as a game master it's up to you to make that experience as memorable and meaningful as possible.
Sometimes it does involve sending your players batty though.
If you're planning on playing through the gigantic Tyranny of Dragons campaign and want to go in blind, this blog post kind of spoils some stuff from Chapter 10.
You have been warned.
When The Night Is Over
They cower before me, as they should.
Their greatest warriors, if they could even be called that, are all dead. Frozen solid, entombed in a wall of ice. A monument to the fruitlessness of their resistance.
To remind the rest of them that they belong to me, to be used as I see fit.
My voice booms out across the tattered remains of the village, the frail people before me flinching in response.
"Bring me food. Discourage anyone from investigating. If you do these two simple things, perhaps I will not eat your children".
With a single beat of my mighty wings, I take flight, then dive into the water and resurface deep within the heart of the iceberg.
There is work to be done. This place must be obscured, hidden from prying eyes.
No-one can know what I have here, for it is mine and mine alone.
The cultists are ambitious. Foolish, but ambitious.
They seek to release the Dark Queen, to free her from the Nine Hells and to return us to our rightful place as the true rulers of this plane. Clearly, they recognise the inherent majesty of my species.
No doubt they hope to gain a semblance of power in the process, carried along in the current of our ascension and lording it over the rest of the mortals.
Who knows if they will succeed, but they do not ask much, and the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.
All I need to do is come when asked. To help defend the ritual, if they even make it that far.
To listen for the call of the Draakhorn.
It might even be worth mentioning their plan to my beloved, fractured though her psyche is. There are many magic users among the cult, perhaps one of them can replace her pet.
Bah, these tomes are a disgrace. The clumsy human marks have none of the depth or nuance of draconic and the pages are fragile and easily torn.
Still, there is a kernel of power here. I can sense it.
And it's only a matter of time before I conquer it and bend it to my will.
Though perhaps I can accelerate the process. Bring in someone stupid and inept enough to understand what the human mages were rambling about.
The tiefling said she was a mage of sorts.
And I bet she'll do anything to be free of the pit.
This tiefling surprises me more and more each day.
Far more adept than I initially gave her credit for, she is more than willing to do whatever is necessary to get closer to the tomes. She has some sort of idiotic notion that they rightfully belong to her fatuous order.
Still, with her translating the human scribblings into proper draconic, I've managed to crack the secrets of one of the tomes. It's some sort of repository of demonic lore.
Clearly whatever fiend scribed it had a sense of humour. It's words worm their way inside your mind and hijack any spells you weave for other, more nefarious purposes.
Hilarious! I can only imagine the death and suffering this thing wrought before it became mine.
Perhaps I could use it as bait...
Anyway, I think I'll get the tiefling to focus her efforts on the arcane tome next.
I scramble up the nearby passageway to the scriptorium and recover the arcane tome that the tiefling was studying, but there is no sign of her. A problem for later.
Descending back down the tunnel, I sense a discharge of arcane energy nearby. As I emerge into the main chamber I can see that one of the wards has been triggered, and the area is filling with a billowing cloud of choking gas.
Something coughs within the blighted smoke, then begins to vomit furiously.
I wait for a few moments, prolonging the creatures suffering, then clear the area with a lazy wave of one of my wings.
It's just a kobold, half-digested food still drooling from its snout. They worship me like a god, attracted by my magnificence.
"You. What are you doing down here? What triggered the alarm?"
In between great sucking breaths, it sputters something out about intruders in the caves above. That they threw him down here while he was cleaning the feeding pit, and he triggered the ward in his confusion.
I don't remember seeing this particular Kobold before, but honestly, all of the simpering little cretins look alike.
I unceremoniously toss him up through the feeding hole and head back over to where the tomes are.
Then I catch an unusual scent.
Coming from an owl that is fluttering furiously in the corner.
The owl is swift, but not as swift as I am.
I snatch it from the air and force it to the ground. As I prepare to grind it into a fine paste, it shifts and reshapes into a much uglier shape.
A disgusting dwarf, heavily bearded and reeking of goat.
Which explains a lot.
"Ahhhh, adventurers. I should have known. Tell me what you're doing here, and your death will be swift and painless."
Nothing useful comes out of its mouth, but where there is one adventurer, there are always more. A surge of electricity courses through me and I violently spasm backwards, the dirty little halfwit using the opportunity to turn back into an owl and make a break for it.
The audacity of this creature! The unforgivable impertinence!
Launching into the air, I pounce on the stunted oaf before it gets very far.
As my jaws snap closed, it shatters into hundreds of tiny furry shapes, most of which are immediately pulverised in-between my teeth.
They taste unsurprisingly of goat.
A few of the bats continue to flutter around weakly but I know there is nothing meaningful left of the druid and I blithely pick them out of the air with my talons as I ponder what to do next.
Surely it has friends. And if they are as stupid as I know they will be, they will come looking for their comrade in arms.
And I will be waiting.
They were stronger than I expected. The traitorous dragonkin is a force to be reckoned with. The sword it wields causes festering wounds and has made me weak.
But I am alive all the same.
I will remember them. The tattooed elf. The rough looking human.
The dragon blooded cur with his jet-black blade.
And the tiefling. That perfidious bitch is the worst of them all. Her disloyalty will be rewarded, and she will scream as I flay the flesh from her bones, strip by inexorable strip.
And I will enjoy every moment.
Then, this plane will burn.
He'll Be Gone Gone Gone
Dragons are always fun. Arrogant, powerful, intelligent.
This dragon in particular is all of the above, and the invasion of his lair can go a number of ways depending on how the players approach the situation.
I can guarantee you that no one predicted this particular outcome, and honestly, neither did I. Sometimes you just have to drop the hammer though, and I think it resulted in a pretty good story at the end of the day.
Death can be a new beginning for a player, giving them a chance to try something different, but it can also be an opportunity to take a break. That's what happened in this case, not because the death was so traumatic that it broke the player, but just because it was the right time for them to stop playing.
In my opinion, one of the best things I learned from this entire adventure, was that even if a character's fate is sealed, it doesn't mean you can't still give the player agency. Letting someone choose how their character is going to meet their demise can make for shared ownership of a potentially uncomfortable event.
And really that's what D&D should be about, telling a story together.