As a gamemaster for D&D, I just want to create memorable stories for my players.
To this end, I usually think about things ahead of time. I make plans and I typically have some idea about how everything is going to shake out when the rubber hits the road.
But sometimes my players surprise me.
Sometimes, they approach a situation in such an unexpected fashion that I have to take a step back and re-evaluate my life choices.
Like in the story below, where a large angry barbarian got a far frostier reception than she expected.
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 second level.
You have been warned.
Let's Kick Some Ice!
His skull is flimsy. Weak. Fragile.
I grasp it in my hands, lifting him off the ground. His feet flail in the air.
He struggles, bloodied hands punching and scratching at my bulk. Scrabbling against the thick corded muscle in my arms.
It makes no difference.
I feel his skull creak as I increase the pressure and his thrashing becomes a frenzy of movement. Eyes darting around, mouth opening and closing wordlessly, arms whipping from side to side.
His head collapses like a ripe melon, fragments of skull and grey matter bursting through my fingertips.
I toss the limp body aside and bellow a challenge from the bottom of the pit.
The warriors arrayed on the rim look to their leader, the half-ogre Sundeth, and he nods imperceptibly.
Three more drop down, armed this time.
It won't matter.
It is a horrible thing, seething with darkness.
And it is mine now, thanks to the guild. A reward for my service. For my dedication.
For my brutality.
But nothing is freely given in the guild.
I am to reinforce our presence on the second level. To work closely with the spider-headed freak and to prevent wandering strays from interrupting our operations below.
Such duties are an insult.
Have I not proven my prowess?
I should be conquering! Crushing my enemies, feeling their bones shatter and hearing the lamentations of their loved ones.
Sundeth knows I am capable of more.
Perhaps this is a test?
This is not a test.
It is a punishment.
There is nothing here, just empty corridors. No threat to the guild. No valuable territory. The spider at least controls the entrance to the labyrinth; I guard a worthless set of stairs down to a drow-infested shithole.
The incessant braying of the idiots under my command eats at me. They eat and drink constantly, like this is some sort of holiday.
But they are at least human.
The abomination in the chamber outside is something else. Rotten to the core, it hovers in the air, mouth agape, ichor drooling from its many open wounds.
I don't trust it.
It seems mindless, but sometimes I catch it staring with its dead, milky eye. Watching. Taking note of everything that I do.
Then, a noise from it's chamber. Faint, barely audible over the carousing of my men.
Jumping to my feet I grab my axe and rush out of the room, but I am too late. The abomination has been slaughtered and its killers have already fled.
"Get them!" I roar, shocking my men into action, but I already know it's too late. They are gone.
But they'll be back.
And I'll be ready.
There is no more celebrating.
Each day I drill my men in the circle, lesson by bloody lesson forging them into something more than the mewling brigands and cutthroats that they once were.
Not all of them survive the process.
All the better, that leaves only the strong.
One such worthy contender faces me in the circle now, cautiously staying out of reach of my spear.
But I'm not focused on him.
I can hear them coming. Smell them on the breeze.
As one of them enters the room and arrogantly announces himself, I pivot and impale my opponent effortlessly, pinning him to the wall with my spear.
A lesson to all who watch, friend and foe alike.
I grab my axe and pounce on the loudmouth, a gormless looking half-orc wearing bright coloured clothes.
Weeks of rage and boredom boil to the forefront and though he tries his best, he is no match for me.
I break him.
As I prepare to finish the job, I hear someone chanting nearby.
Paper thin yet immeasurably dangerous, I turn from my beaten foe and face her. Fiery hair and ashen face, she is concentrating heavily, waving her hands in intricate motions.
Rushing towards her I stumble.
Something is wrong.
My flesh seethes and bubbles, stretching and contracting, my skin growing cold and slimy. I feel my insides rearrange, softening and shifting and the ground rushes up to meet me. Something hard emerges from my back and my limbs retract into my torso, now unnaturally long.
My mind fogs and all that is left is the rage. The need to hurt. To crush.
The mage sprints forward and picks me up, so I wrap myself around her arm and squeeze, no less strong for the transformation.
She screams, but keeps enough of her wits to rush me away from my men and I faintly hear the sounds of them being slaughtered by a living shadow.
Her arm bones crack, but her grip holds.
She is more resolute than I gave her credit for.
I am only vaguely aware of where she takes me, some place filled with people and noise.
Then, I am me again.
The mage is in front of me, and I try to grab at her, intent on crushing her skull like the egg that it is.
But I can't move.
And I feel cold.
No blood flows through my veins anymore, as it is frozen solid.
No air rushes into my lungs, they are filled with rime.
Sometimes I see flashes of people, hear the muted clink of glasses, the dull roar of a faraway crowd.
How am I alive?
Deep inside I can feel my anger, flickering like a weak flame on the verge of guttering out.
I will feed it until it is a blazing inferno and it shatters this icy prison.
And then I will kill everyone.
Starting with that accursed mage.
I'll be honest, the large angry woman described above is kind of a one-note character in the adventure as written, and I didn't really give her much attention.
Big, strong and violent, she makes for a bit of a speed bump to the average group of players as they delve further and further into the depths of Undermountain.
Polymorphed into a snail, rushed from the scene and then unceremoniously frozen into an icy statue back in the local tavern.
But that's okay, because it's a hell of a memorable story for my players and her frozen form remains a constant reminder, and a potential hook for me to use in the future if I feel like complicating things.
I mean, it's pretty obvious that being frozen hasn't exactly chilled her out any.