As a game master, sometimes you have to take a player's character away from them.
Perhaps they insisted on continuing down a path that wasn't going to end well, or perhaps they just needed to be reminded that there are actual ramifications to their actions.
Killing the character is the most common way to deal with the situation, but there are other options. Like having the character disappear in mysterious circumstances, never to be seen again.
Until you bring them back for your own nefarious purposes that is.
If you're planning on playing through the Dungeon of the Mad Mage and want to go in blind, this blog post spoils some stuff on the fifth level and beyond.
You have been warned.
Baby Seals Here I Come
Smoke fills my nostrils, and I cough and splutter as I run away from the conflagration behind me. The spider-things are dead, which is good, but they are the least of our worries now.
Something is coming through the forest from that direction of that giant tree, screeching in Elvish, and it's clear that she is angry.
I've just got to get back through the portal and then everything will be fine. Whatever she is, I'm betting she won't follow.
Gods, I hope she won't follow.
Andy stumbles beside me and I reach down and grab his hand, pulling him back on his feet and pushing him forward. The others make it to the building where the portal is and dive inside.
We're still a few seconds away ourselves when a massive blast of heat from behind us knocks us to the ground. I roll over just in time to see a colossal column of fire incinerate the section of forest that we just came from, then immediately gutter out, leaving no trace of the forest fire that we started.
The Elvish thing wails, rage and sorrow in equal measure.
Andy grabs me and hefts me to my feet, then we start running again. Toward the building. Toward safety.
We dive inside just in time to see the others disappear through the portal, their distorted shapes faintly visible on the other side.
Andy summons a pool of darkness to cover our backs, and as the inky blackness spreads across the door I see her.
An elf, or something like one, festooned with leaves and bark, fury written across her face.
A blinding radiance annihilates the darkness and thick thorny vines wrap around the portal, blocking our escape.
More burst from the ground and rapidly snake their way up my legs and around my chest.
Then they squeeze.
It's not so bad.
I mean, the cell isn't the most comfortable thing in the world, but I'm alive and so is Andy, so that counts for something. She feeds us well and hasn't mistreated us at all, though Andy isn't exactly the best house guest.
She's not so terrible once you get to know her.
Once you explain that you didn't mean to burn down her forest and that you were just looking around and then you found some spider-things and things got out of hand.
Her name is Wyllow and she's the guardian of this forest. Or more accurately, this forest is her home and everything in it is under her protection.
I suspect she's been alone for a long time.
Whenever we talk, I can sense a sadness there. A longing. But there is rage too, always simmering just below the surface. I don't know what she is angry at, or who, but it taints her every waking moment.
I think I can help her.
Mmmmm, the smell of the forest. I love it so much more than I used to.
It's a taste of freedom in an otherwise closely monitored existence.
I suspect Wyllow sees everything I do when she sends me on these errands though. She tends to keep a close eye on me, and I'm not sure if it's entirely about making sure I don't start another forest fire.
Today she wants me to go and investigate a rash of animal deaths near some ruins to the south-east. Apparently, a colony of bat-goblin creatures lives there, with her blessing. They have behaved themselves so far, but she suspects they might be getting greedy.
Something she won't abide.
Balance must be maintained.
I've never been down this way before. I've seen some ruins scattered throughout the forest, but they were all dilapidated, overgrown and forgotten.
As I get closer I see the ruins that the bat-goblins inhabit.
They are untouched by the forest, almost clean.
Not intact though. The wooden and stone buildings are shattered and broken in some places, marred with heavy gouges and strange scorch marks in others.
What happened here?
Why has the forest not reclaimed the area?
Still, that's a mystery for later. I have a job to do.
I call out as I enter the area, speaking in Ghukliak so that there are no misunderstandings and explaining that I am here on Wyllow's behalf. I will speak with their leader; Mobar.
A bat-goblin emerges sleepily from a nearby cave, looks at me for a moment, then heads off further into the ruined buildings without a word.
It's not long before it returns with a procession of sorts, leading a much larger goblin towards me.
Mobar eagerly asks me some pointed questions about Wyllow, then satisfied with my answers, lets me ask questions of my own.
It quickly becomes apparent that the creatures have not broken the terms of their agreement with Wyllow. They prey on the smaller creatures in the forest, and only in very limited amounts.
One of their number is clearly nervous at the questions though.
His name is Vool, and he assures me that he has not done anything wrong. He never would. I probe Mobar and the other's about Vool's behaviour and a story quickly emerges.
He hunts alone. He is never hungry when the colony eats. He is remarkably clean for a goblin.
I pass no judgement, but the colony is less kind. They exile Vool, to his weeping protestations and Mobar assures me that this will never happen again. Wyllow is too important to him to allow such behaviour.
I return to the tower and open the door.
Unfamiliar voices well up from inside.
Walking into the main chamber I see four adventurers; a muscle-bound fairy, a bohemian older woman, a shirtless and heavily tattooed elf, and an average looking man dressed in ranger garb.
I've learnt that it's best to not interfere in Wyllow's business, so I acknowledge her as I walk past and head back to my room.
I'll fill her in later, but I'm sure she'll be pleased with my actions.
And her approval and trust matters to me more each day that I spend here.
The earth is cracked and broken here, rocks and soil exposed. A collapsed tunnel perhaps?
There is blood, along with fragments of bristly fur. A boar? Whatever it was, given the amount of blood, I don't think it's alive anymore.
No carcass, so whatever attacked the animal took the body with it.
This has been happening more and more, especially on the eastern side of the forest, near the river.
I think something foreign to the forest is preying on the animals. Tunnelling up from below, taking what it wants and then retreating back from whence it came.
No doubt she'll want me to investigate. She doesn't seem to like leaving the forest proper, though I have no doubt she is capable of it.
I wonder if Tearulai has seen anything? He lairs to the south, against this side of the river. There is an old bridge there, that crosses over and continues into some rough-hewn tunnels. I think they lead down.
I'll need supplies of course, but her tower is filled with all sorts of things and I'm sure I'll find what I need.
This will be the furthest I have gone from her sight, but I know she trusts me now.
And I trust her.
This forest is a beautiful respite from the horrors of Undermountain, and I find myself wanting to protect it almost as much as she does.
Ughhhh, where am I?
It's so dark. I can barely move. So much pain.
I'm backed up against a rough stone wall of some sort.
I must have passed out. I wonder how long I was out for?
The caverns below! Through the tunnels on the eastern side of the river. I was looking for whatever was coming up into the forest and preying on the animals within.
A giant? Carving something into the wall. He seemed so calm.
I hailed him.
He was so fast. So angry.
He had a greatclub and he knew how to use it.
Thank the gods that the impact threw me backwards and knocked my lantern out of my hands. He ran straight towards the fire, looking to finish me off.
I crawled painfully away. Made my way into this crack in the stone.
What was that?
Too quiet for the giant, even if he did have friends.
I need to signal them somehow.
"He...help" I croak out. Barely audible. My ribs don't want to move, and I can barely breathe. But I can still move my arm and my pack is nearby.
A fire maybe?
Or at least some smoke to draw them to me.
Where is that damn tinder box.
Some dry cloth, a few wooden arrows. It will have to do.
The flint sparks and the cloth catches almost immediately.
As I look into the guttering flame, I feel the blackness close in again.
Gods I hope they are friendly, whoever they are.
I'm floating. Something soft underneath me. Underneath my head.
Cloth? Filled with something unusual. Not down. Leaves?
It is hard to open my eyes, but I crack one set of eyelids open and I see her.
She notices me awaken and starts, grabbing a nearby cup, sloshing liquid into it from a nearby pitcher.
"Here" she says softly "drink. It will help."
She cradles my head forward and tips the cup up to my mouth so that I can sip.
A wonderful warmth flows through me.
"I'm never letting you out of my sight again" she whispers, conviction clear in her tone.
Of All The Friends I've Had, You're The First
The character in this story, Dale the Kind, was one of the very first player characters to join my Undermountain campaign. He was a very stalwart and reliable fellow, a classic warrior with a kind heart, who started delving not for his own personal gain but to help others.
Unfortunately, during one particular delve, he ran afoul of a powerful druid known as Wyllow, having been in the group that accidentally set fire to her forest.
That was the point where he stopped being a player character and became part of the world instead. Lost and presumed dead.
I wasn't until over a year of real time later that I reintroduced Dale, nonchalantly returning to Wyllow's tower when another group of adventurers happened to be talking to her about an unrelated matter.
Dale being imprisoned by Wyllow, gaining her trust, being injured on a quest of his own and finally being rescued by the players really helped to flesh out an area that might have otherwise been one-dimensional (mysterious forest, powerful druid guardian).
It's also one of the best ways that I've "killed" a character belonging to a player.